OT: The turf has to go

Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers left his first game after suffering a season-ending injury on Sept. 11. Photo courtesy of cnn.com.


Overtime, or “OT”, is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines or polarizing topics and gives them a Butler-centric angle

Each year as the NFL season begins, there are a few things that a football fan can count on: NFL games every Monday, Thursday and Sunday — and a top player getting injured each week if they were not already injured before the season. 

According to CBS Sports, so far this season, there have been 169 players placed on the Injury Reserved (IR) list. Similar to the IR, a player may be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list instead. The list is typically utilized by teams with players expecting a quick return following a pre-season injury. The main difference between the PUP and IR is that the PUP will be counted against the active 53-player roster. 

While injuries are bound to happen in a gladiator sport like football, there are many injuries that come from playing on turf that could potentially be avoided if teams played on grass. Injuries seen more on turf include ligament injuries, hip injuries and turf toe all caused by a cleat getting caught in the turf. 

Although there is no guarantee of what the elimination of turf fields would mean for injuries, fans like first-year pre-pharmacy major Ashwin Sandhu believe that fewer injuries will lead to more enjoyment when watching a game. 

“I feel like [switching to grass fields] would be more enjoyable to fans,” Sandhu said. “[If] star players do not get injured as much, it would help [the fans] watch more of the star players play.” 

According to AP News, of the 12 most common injuries seen on these injury lists, a whopping 10 of them are related to the lower body. While some of the injuries, like Browns running back Nick Chubb’s week two leg injury against the Steelers, come with the violence of the game, a lot of the injuries are preventable non-contact injuries that occur on artificial turf fields. The most recent major occurrence, Aaron Rodgers’ ruptured Achilles tendon on Sept. 11, was promptly followed by the National Football League’s Players Association’s (NFLPA) renewed outcry to convert to grass fields. 

Of the 30 stadiums in the NFL, 15 stadiums and 17 teams play on a turf home field. The Packers are the lone team that plays on a turf-grass blend called SIS Grass

Converting to a grass field should be easy enough for the seven outdoor stadiums currently playing with turf instead of grass. On the other hand, for the eight indoor or partial indoor stadiums, such as Lucas Oil Stadium, a switch could be challenging. Since grass fields need sunlight and water, a grass field indoors is often thought to be improbable. Despite this, the Cardinals and Raiders have figured out how to maintain grass indoors and should be an example for other indoor NFL stadiums to follow. 

So, why does the playing surface even matter? How much more preventable are injuries on grass compared to turf? 

According to the NFLPA, players have a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those non-contact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a 69% higher rate of non-contact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass. 

This data should not be surprising, though. NFL athletes put extreme force into the ground beneath their feet. Whether stopping on a dime, chopping feet to make a block or launching their bodies to make a tackle, natural grass has much more give and will sink or completely unroot with enough force. Turf, on the other hand, will never sink or be unroot. Instead, the force that would be absorbed by grass moves to athletes’ feet, ankles, knees and hips. 

Regardless of the playing surface, the majority of fans like sophomore marketing major Nolan Canada simply do not want to see anyone get injured. 

“Just as a sports fan, no one wants to see injuries,” Canada said. “Nobody wants to see someone down on the ground from a non-contact injury, like seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in his first start with the Jets. If playing on a grass field would prevent injuries like that, I feel like it would benefit the players.” 

There have been six teams that have played only on grass fields through the first two weeks, whereas there have been 12 teams that have played solely on turf. Revisiting the injury reports, the teams that have played only on grass average fewer lower body injuries per team than the teams that have played only on turf. Although not a huge margin, it goes to show that the lower body injury rate should decrease on grass fields. 

If the league would implement a grass field mandate, the switch would not only be better for the players, but for the league economy as well. If the star players are on the field, the fans will pay to watch. 

The Cardinals and Raiders have implemented the first retractable fields in the NFL, which allow the grass field to grow in natural conditions before they move it inside. The natural Tifway 419 grass at State Farm Stadium in Arizona is rolled inside on a tray. In just 70 minutes, at the push of a button, the field can be moved 740 feet in or out of the stadium. Despite the limited use of a retractable field, the concept debuted in 2006 and should be available for all teams to follow suit to make grass fields feasible. 

However, some fans such as senior psychology major KC Colleary point out that inclement weather affects natural grass much more than turf. 

“I know a lot of people think that turf fields are more injury-inducing,” Colleary said. “But, I do not think that maintaining grass fields is feasible for all NFL teams. I feel like we forget that when it gets gross, rainy and muddy that [it brings the question] if grass is really safer.” 

When it comes to mud, Colleary made a great point that grass becomes more dangerous in that instance. She also mentioned that as a Bills fan, it is clear that in an environment like Buffalo, New York, grass is harder to grow. Especially in the later parts of the season, a grass field would be frozen and unplayable compared to their current turf field. 

However, grass fields have been able to survive outdoors in cold places such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. With the right practices put in place, there is no reason to continue with turf fields. 

At the end of the day, there is no magic cure for NFL injuries — especially a brutal non-contact injury. However, when there are numbers that support the change to grass, infrastructure in place to achieve indoor grass and it being something a lot of players want, there is no reason not to make the switch. No matter how you spin it, there is more reason to convert to grass than there is to continue playing on turf. 

Although the change to grass will not happen overnight, there should not be hesitation when the process to switch is easy. It is time for a change, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to realize there is no money without the players. The league must continue to invest in their players and themselves by mandating and maintaining high-end grass fields throughout the league. 


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