Whenever a non-contact injury occurs in the NFL, the focus immediately shifts to the playing surface. This is, of course, one of the NFL’s longest-running debates: should players be made to compete on artificial turf?
The answer is that it is incredibly complicated as far as a solution goes given that 14 stadiums in the NFL have chosen to use artificial turf, which is a figure that represents almost half. Some of the league’s most accomplished teams, like the Philadelphia Eagles who are at just -138 in the latest Super Bowl betting to lift the prestigious Vince Lombardi Trophy, use artificial turf.
Yes, the Eagles, who came through a scintillating playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers to book their place at Super Bowl LVII, use an artificial fiber at the Lincoln Financial Field which, in simple terms, helps steady and maintain the blades and roots of the grass.
This surface, called DD Grassmaster, is one that the Eagles have grown used to and as the latest odds show, has also seen them play their best football when using it.
As initially couched on, it’s not just the Eagles though who seemingly get the most out of artificial turf, given that a telling amount of franchises continue to enjoy a significant amount of success on hybrid surfaces. Ultimately, this makes the task for the powers that be of the league all the more complex when it comes to insisting on uniformity.
So, what exactly are the supposed pitfalls of artificial turf, and how does the NFL get to the bottom of a problem that is making life increasingly awkward for the rule makers?
A rock and a hard place
The main complaint of artificial turf is the hardness of the surface which takes its toll on the joints of the knee. This is especially evident when a player tries to slow down or change direction because the surface has less give which increases strain on the knees.
Similarly, on account of the surface being hard, turf does not release a player’s feet as well as grass does which to put it in simple terms, means that the artificial field holds onto a player’s foot when they try to run.
Daniel Jones IN HIS BAG 😮— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 15, 2023
This can lead to slipping which again, brings into focus the firmness of artificial turf as players have suffered concussions upon falling to the ground.
This, at least, was what Taylor Rapp said ruled him out of action for a string of weeks after his head made contact with the ground at the Los Angeles Rams stadium during a fixture in 2021. The Rams use what is called a Hellas Matrix Turf at their SoFi Stadium and this was installed on the basis that this type of artificial turf would provide more give than a lot of other brands.
Even if that is true, Rapp’s experience shows that there are no silver bullets when it comes to finding an answer that suits everyone.
Could the league issue a blanket ban on artificial turf?
What is telling is that all 32 teams do to some degree or other, train on real grass which suggests a preference and an acknowledgement of the issues regarding the long-term wear and tear on the body that artificial turf causes. With this in mind, there may be support for a blanket ban but logistically, there is very little chance of this happening soon.
Indeed, one of the biggest barriers is the domed stadiums in the league of which five don’t have roofs that can retract.
Last one pic.twitter.com/Gz6qneuGZh— Allegiant Stadium (@AllegiantStadm) January 7, 2023
Needless to say, a permanently shut roof would make growing grass, as well as the ongoing upkeep, extremely challenging.
What is the long-term answer?
Instead of issuing a ban on artificial turf, it seems that the spotlight should be on technology and making artificial turf more authentic – to the point where there is no difference between the two surfaces.
All things being equal, that is probably the fairest compromise given that the money spent on trying to bridge the gap through technological advancements would be considerably less than the outlay of having to oversee widespread change. This plan of action would also help the NFL in showing that something is being done to quell the growing voices of dissent.
For now, however, the show will go on and teams will have to do their best to manage any injuries and workloads on artificial turf.
Also read: Ranking 4 of The Best Stadiums in The NFL for Fan Experiences