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Sports injuries: Artificial turf vs natural grass

May 06, 2023

Editor's Note: The following is part of a class project originally initiated in the classroom of Ball State University professor Adam Kuban in fall 2021. Kuban continued the project this spring semester, challenging his students to find sustainability efforts in the Muncie area and pitch their ideas to Deanna Watson, editor of The Star Press, Journal & Courier and Pal-Item. This spring, stories related to health care will be featured.

MUNCIE, Ind. – "ALL FIELDS SHOULD BE GRASS. But don't get me started," is a tweet that Odell Beckham Jr. posted Nov. 8, 2022.

He was responding to a question about playing surfaces, but specifically grass and turf. This debate has been gaining a lot of attention across the league and the NFL community. Current and former players have been speaking out on why artificial turf is causing them to get hurt more often.

Yet, the NFL has decided not to do anything about it yet.

There are 30 NFL fields, and of those, 17 are natural grass fields, and 13 are artificial-turf fields, according to Stadiums of Pro Football. That shows there are more grass fields than turf, but it doesn't solve the issue. A majority of the League will still play football games on an artificial-turf field. Every single NFL team plays at least 17 games in a season, and with there still being 13 artificial-turf fields, they have a 43% chance to play on turf every game.

However, it still depends on the team's schedule.

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) notified the NFL that it believes turf fields should be removed. NFLPA President JC Tretter requested the immediate replacement and ban of all slit-film turf, according to an article by Charean Williams on Pro Football Talk. That same article on Pro Football Talk states the NFL denied their request because they believe that the injury rates on natural grass and synthetic surfaces are nearly identical.

According to a 2019 study by Christina D. Mack and others published in "The American Journal of Sports Medicine," play on synthetic, or artificial, turf resulted in a 16% increase in injuries as compared with play on grass. Therefore, turf in general has a higher injury rate than the natural grass fields.

Players are getting frustrated because non-contact injuries are starting to become more common. On Feb. 13, 2022, George Kittle, a tight end for the 49ers, tweeted, "I’ve been saying, artificial turf feels like playing on cement." He also posted a picture with it that states "28% more non-contact lower body injuries occurred on turf." Another player, Deebo Samuel, tweeted on Feb. 13, 2022, saying, "Turf should be banned @NFL."

Otto Hurrle coaches high school football at Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis. He has coached for over 20 years and believes that the turf can be more damaging to NFL players than college and high school players.

"It's a lot safer, there isn't as much wear and tear on grass compared to the turf," explained Hurrle. "The guys in the NFL are more skilled than kids in college and high school, so those cuts that they make on turf put way more pressure on their body.

Thomas Allgood used to play football at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and he said he didn't hate playing on turf, but he didn't prefer it.

"Turf fields always got really hot if it was nice out, and it was never fun to get turf burn," he said. "Sometimes, I did think my cleats would grab differently on turf than it did on grass." The NFL has so far made no further change to their rules and regulations on football fields.