High-profile muscular injuries raise concern over the use of artificial turf fields

By Aaron Coloma, Oct. 17, 2023

The National Football League Players Association requested the NFL replace all playing surfaces with natural grass Sept. 13, just two days after quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon while playing on artificial turf.

Executive Director of the NFLPA Lloyd Howell cited safety as the primary reason for the appeal in his statement. Howell’s statement also brought up the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America. The NFLPA took issue with stadiums used primarily for football being converted to grass for the World Cup only to be reverted to turf for NFL games.

Currently, 17 of the NFL’s 32 teams play home games on turf fields.

In an interview with ESPN, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded by saying the league would continue to investigate the safety of turf in comparison to grass, but it was not something he could change by just looking at a particular injury.

This is the second time the NFLPA has pushed for a change in playing surface this year. In April, The NFLPA released a report containing injury data from 2012 to 2018, which stated players have a 69% higher rate of non-contact foot and ankle injuries on turf compared to grass. While the NFL released its own data in response that showed injuries occurred at a similar rate on both surfaces in 2021, NFLPA President J.C. Tretter claims that season was an outlier, and grass was significantly safer.

Howell acknowledged the financial commitment needed for the change but deemed it necessary, as the bigger cost for its business is high-profile injuries.

The statement added players overwhelmingly prefer grass compared to turf. Many of Rodgers’ teammates, current and former, spoke out against the use of artificial turf after the incident.

And it is not just NFL players who feel this way. While Cal Poly Pomona does not have a football team, outdoor athletes have their own opinions on which surface they play on.

Georgia Rink, a defender on the CPP women’s soccer team, played exclusively on turf at a school in New York before coming to CPP and explained her preference for playing on grass.

“It’s harder to grip into the ground on turf,” said Rink. “If you fall, which happens a lot, it, like, cuts your skin. I think the real grass is much better for soccer.”

The athletic fields at Cal Poly Pomona, Kellogg Stadium, Scolinos Field and the practice and activity fields in front of Kellogg Arena are all grass.

Alexis Henry, CPP’s Athletic Facilities and Events coordinator, said there is no conversation about a switch to turf at our school. Henry also praised the maintenance team who keep the athletics fields up to par.

“They come in, mow it, make it even, make sure it’s up to par so that there’s no issues,” said Henry. “It’s suitable for our athletes, for their feet, ankles.”

Brian Lake, the manager of Landscape Services, leads a team of 36 people who ensure our athletes, like Rink, are satisfied with the quality of CPP’s facilities. Lake’s team performs maintenance on the fields year-round to ensure they are fit for use.

“The fields definitely aren’t just about appearance,” said Lake. “The most important thing is student athletes’ safety.”

Lake stressed the importance of keeping regularly tended fields, especially during the active growing season in the summer. They perform many different tasks to eliminate different hazards like aerification, which relieves compaction in the soil, dethatching, which makes the playing surface uniform and less spongy, and “verticutting,” which eliminates long runners of grass that could otherwise trip athletes.

“Most of my training is why natural grass is better than artificial turf,” said Lake. “Natural grass is much, much safer and much, much cooler. It’s just not made for all the switching directions, pivoting and so forth that a world class athlete makes.”

Feature image by Jose Mosqueda

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