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Broncos linebacker Aaron Patrick sues NFL, Chargers over sideline injury

Sep 18, 2023

Aaron Patrick, an outside linebacker for the Denver Broncos, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the NFL, ESPN, the Los Angeles Chargers and others after tearing his ACL in a sideline collision. The suit comes at a time when game-day conditions at NFL games have come under increased scrutiny.

Patrick was injured during Denver's Oct. 17 overtime loss to the Chargers at SoFi Stadium, when according to the lawsuit filed in California Superior Court, he collided with an improperly positioned NFL replay liaison as he knocked punt returner DeAndre Carter out of bounds. The suit contends that Patrick, with his momentum carrying him off the field, stepped awkwardly on a mat covering wires that connect to the on-field replay system and collided with the liaison.

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The lawsuit by Patrick, a 25-year-old, second-year player whose season was ended by the injury, asks for unspecified damages for lost earnings, bonuses he cannot qualify for, medical expenses and pain and suffering.

"Player safety should be the foremost of importance to the NFL and its owners," attorney William Berman said in a news release (via the Denver Post). "The NFL is a multi-billion-dollar sports enterprise and business, and it needs to do everything possible to protect its players from noncontact game injuries. As for Patrick's injuries, Sofi Stadium should have the state-of-the-art equipment to protect for player safety, and not use the type of $100 mats that you would expect to see in a restaurant kitchen."

The suit, which claims all of the named defendants were negligent, is somewhat reminiscent of a lawsuit won by former NFL running back Reggie Bush. His 2015 season with the San Francisco 49ers was cut short when he tore his meniscus as he slipped on concrete next to the field at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, where the Rams were then based. Bush was awarded nearly $12.5 million in damages in 2018.

Patrick's suit related to the playing conditions in Los Angeles comes as NFL players have become increasingly critical of playing on artificial turf, with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers the latest to advocate for changing the playing surfaces at all stadiums to natural grass.

"I do think it's time to go all grass throughout the league," Rodgers said Tuesday. "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."

Those comments come after the NFL said last week that the rate of noncontact injuries to the knee, ankle and foot are roughly equal on natural and artificial playing surfaces (via ESPN). NFL Players Association President J.C. Tretter disputed that claim Saturday, specifically calling for the replacement of a type of surface known as "slit-film turf." According to the players union, the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants and New York Jets (who share a stadium with the Giants) have that turf, which consists of fake blades of grass that have openings that can cause cleats to catch.

"The injuries on slit film are completely avoidable — both the NFL and NFLPA experts agree on the data — and yet the NFL will not protect players from a subpar surface," Tretter wrote on the union's website, garnering support from several players on social media.

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NFL spokesman Jeff Miller replied in a statement (via Pro Football Talk) that slit-film surfaces "have 2-3 more injuries per year, most of them are ankle sprains — a low-burden injury — whereas slit film also sees a lower rate of fewer high-burden ACL injuries compared to other synthetic fields." Miller added that the league and the union's jointly approved experts did not recommend any changes to surfaces at a meeting this month and concluded "more study is needed."

Green Bay's Lambeau Field uses a polyethylene-based SISGrass in which synthetic fibers are stitched together with natural Kentucky bluegrass, and Rodgers wasn't hopeful that there would be a switch to natural grass any time soon.

"I don't have a lot of confidence when it comes to the league making that decision without some sort of big vote and gripes from certain owners who don't want to spend the money," Rodgers said. He added that a more forgiving playing surface "to me is player safety" and the league "would be putting your money where your mouth is if player safety is important."