The Turf vs. Grass Debate Heats Up Across the NFL

Last week, this argument picked up a bit of steam with De’Vondre Campbell’s twitter comments after his teammate Rashan Gary suffered a season ending injury on the turf in Detroit. Since then, this debate has blown up on twitter and other news media as the players are determined to make a stand.

A number of NFL players made comments on twitter using the hashtag #SaferFields. I’ll admit that I had never heard of De’Vondre Campbell before his tweet went viral last week. But bigger names are tweeting about it and its forcing owners to face the music. The likes of Cooper Kupp, Nick Bosa, and George Kittle are now sounding off on the league and the owners, making it very clear where they stand.[1]

The issue is garnering more attention as more players speak out. There was a conversation this week on the Pro Football Talk (PFT) Live radio show with Mike Florio and Chris Simms in which they discuss the issue in general as well as comments from Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones.[2] Jones insisted publicly that there is no difference between injuries on turf and grass stating, “no facts bear that.” The issue of course is that, as shown in last week’s article, there are studies that show the difference.

A common theme that came up in both the players’ tweets and on PFT Live is the unquestioned conviction of using grass fields for soccer.

It is true that soccer overseas is played almost exclusively on natural grass; that is not the case for professional soccer in the United States. It is also true that when the world cup comes to our country, it will be played exclusively on grass in the same stadiums that currently house turf for NFL games. An incredibly interesting point that bears mentioning and could potentially have a huge impact on the future of NFL contracts was mentioned by Chris Simms during the Jerry Jones segment on PFT. While opining on the soccer aspect of the argument, he mentioned that some big-name soccer players (Messi and Ronaldo type players) have it written into their contract that they will not play on turf, only grass. Now why would an elite athlete want this type of provision included in their contract if there is no difference between turf and grass? It doesn’t seem like a point of contention in soccer. They play on grass and the leagues and clubs that make unconscionable profits from the game turn around and treat the players well. They show that they care about player safety and it’s not just talk as it seems to be with the NFL for the time being.

Aaron Rodgers is the latest high-profile name to chime in on the issue. Rodgers has been a loud advocate for player safety, going back to when he publicly opposed the 17-game season; he noted that the NFL was elongating the season for monetary gain at the expense of the players.[3] He mentioned that point again this week, saying that this is an opportunity for the league to put their money where their mouths are if they truly care about player safety. “I do think it’s time to go all grass throughout the league. I think you would see less of these noncontact injuries that we see on some of the surfaces, and I think that it’d be a good step in the right direction towards player safety to make the requirement for every field to be grass.” Rodgers conveyed his lack of confidence in the league in making such a change, as the rest of the players and NFLPA have.

The hope is that this debate grows so much so that the owners and the league have no choice but to make a change. It also has large implications for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to be negotiated. The NFL continues to deny data that correlates playing surfaces with injury rates while the players mention it often. It would be interesting to see which numbers each side is looking at while making these claims.




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