Turf or Grass?
Why does the National Football League still neglect the benefits of having natural grass stadiums over artificial turf? Evidence shows that players have a higher rate of non contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf than playing on natural grass. Not only to the extent of injuries but the environmental risks that are involved with installing artificial turf fields. The NFL should only have natural grass fields instead of artificial turf because there is a decrease in lower extremity injuries and environmental risks with the natural option.
What causes there to be more knee injuries in NFL players when playing on artificial turf opposed to playing on natural grass? This topic has lingered around the football world in the United States for a long time now and is still producing limited answers on why this tends to occur.
Knee injuries, particularly football-related anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are influenced by a variety of circumstances, such as, the field conditions at the time of the injury, the kind of play, the player’s position and activity, the playing surfaces, and the coefficient of friction at the shoe-surface interface. Reduced risk of this kind of noncontact injury may result from awareness of the role that these factors play in the occurrence of noncontact ACL injuries. According to research, about 18% of all football injuries are knee ligament injuries. According to Powell and Schootman, researchers at their respective universities, on average each year NFL teams have six game-related knee ligament injuries. Injury rates and risk variables related to grass and Astroturf were discussed in their study. Despite the fact that they did not distinguish between contact and noncontact injuries, they emphasized the significance of the surface and the shoe-surface interaction as significant risk factors. Identifying and separating contact from non contact injuries is crucial for reducing injuries. Noncontact football-related injuries have not been included in many studies, and this is still a major cause for worry. A noncontact ACL damage may tragically end an athlete’s career even though “muscle pulls,” “ankle sprains,” and other non contact injuries like “turf burners” do not cause significant time loss.
Mike Florio, an American author, sportswriter and radio host, speaks on behalf of the NFL and how all teams in the league should be playing on real grass instead of “fake grass”. In the article he states, “It never should happen. Yes, today’s artificial surfaces are better than the cruel and unusual green cement on which tackle football was played for decades. But they’re not grass. They should be grass. All of them.” In the past, the NFL had only played on very poorly groomed fields that could be argued they were safer for the players than playing on artificial turf. Mike Florio goes on to say that any team owner who’s team doesn’t play on natural grass doesn’t care about their players’ safety. “Any owner who plays in a stadium that doesn’t use grass doesn’t care about protecting his or her players as much as they should. While much can’t be done to retrofit some of the stadiums with non-retractable roofs, every stadium that can convert to grass should, and all new stadiums must be built with grass fields, not fake ones.” Former NFL center, JC Tretter talks about the difficulties of playing on artificial turf compared to natural grass in the league. Tretter discusses his transition from college football to the big league, “As a rookie learning the ins and outs of being a professional football player, I remember the collective groan that my older teammates made whenever it was announced that we’d be practicing indoors on artificial turf instead of the usual outdoor grass field. I played almost exclusively on synthetic turf in college. Once I started experiencing both surfaces interchangeably, I began to understand exactly why my teammates disliked the practices on turf. Whenever I practiced on an artificial field surface, my joints felt noticeably stiffer the next day. The unforgiving nature of artificial turf compounds the grind on the body we already bear from playing a contact sport.” Artificial turf is composed of synthetic fibers made to mirror natural grass. The playing surface is subjected to extraordinarily high levels of stress and rotation by professional football players. The grass will finally give way, which frequently causes the cleat to loosen before reaching an unsafe load. Because there is less give in synthetic surfaces, our knees, ankles, and feet absorb more impact, increasing the likelihood of damage.
One of the biggest differences between artificial turf and natural grass is the level of care. Natural grass can last a long time but it takes an immense amount of maintenance to keep the field in perfect condition. This also means that it is going to be way more costly to the NFL teams to make sure the grass is kept up. Artificial turf on the other hand is way less expensive and a lot easier to maintain. When ChemGrass was installed at the Houston Astrodome to replace the deteriorating grass in the first dome stadium in the middle of the 1960s, the first artificial turf-style field was created. The argument between natural grass and turf playing surfaces started when the grass was later renamed as AstroTurf. The cost difference between synthetic turf and grass fields is one of the strongest arguments in favor of its deployment. In contrast to grass fields, turf usually costs money up front and requires little to no upkeep over its lifetime.
In perspective, the National Football League may not realize the additional costs going to treating these knee injuries. Through players’ eyes there definitely is frustration because of the intimidation of cost for upkeep on the natural grass fields. In the long run there might be correlations between the cost to maintain the natural grass fields and the costs associated with the various treatments for the knee injuries suffered in the NFL. As a viewer and fan of the NFL, it pains to see these players go through agonizing ACL tears and ruptures just because of the main focus in the league of price in maintaining the natural grass fields. This problem with artificial turf has been floating around the league ever since Astroturf was founded to be the main culprit of knee injuries in NFL players. The NFL needs to take care of their players instead of eyeing in on the only important idea in money.
Professional football is one of the most watched sports in the United States which is played in the National Football League. Obviously injuries are a part of every contact or non contact activity that is played around the world but some may feel that to an extent, somehow they could be prevented. Followers of these sports do not want to see the players diagnosed with potential season ending injuries like ACL tears because of the type of surface that’s being played on.
With the development of third-generation and hybrid turf types, which aim to provide athletes an experience closer to natural grass, the usage of artificial turf in sports has increased. The most popular type of artificial grass is third-generation turf, which consists of long, synthetic fibers that resemble grass and are interspersed with sand and rubber. Hybrid turf systems use natural grass that has been strengthened with extra synthetic fibers to increase the field’s tensile strength. Both artificial turf kinds are now utilized in professional sports, such as football and soccer,which also happen to be two activities in which ACL injuries are relatively prevalent. When playing on artificial turf as opposed to real grass, there is a higher chance of ACL injuries in practice and competition, according to studies looking at the risk of ACL injuries in collegiate and professional football and soccer players. The greater frictional force between your shoes and the fake grass contributes to these ailments on artificial turf frequently. Your foot is more firmly adhered to the earth when you plant it there. As a result, any upper body twisting will place more strain on the ACL and increase the likelihood that the ligament will break. Natural grass would make it easier for the planted foot to move, minimizing the strain used on the knee and the likelihood of injury.
Rebecca Lambert, a Grand Canyon athletic trainer as well as a personal trainer, said she has not seen a big difference in injury rate when comparing the newer grade of turf versus natural grass. But, she said, when an athlete plants his or her foot on turf it is like glue.
“There’s a higher friction and so when you’re cutting or turning, you just stick to a little bit more whereas with natural grass there’s a little more movement in the ground,” Lambert said. “A lot of players complain about feeling more sore or just kind of joints being more achy, kind of worn down after competing on turf versus grass as well.”
Despite the benefits of synthetic turf, there has recently been pressure on NFL teams to return to playing on actual grass. Many athletes contend that grass offers a superior playing surface and is easier on their body. The fact that grass is significantly softer than artificial turf is one of the main advantages of playing on it. This can lessen the possibility of player injury. Grass also has a tendency to be cooler than synthetic turf, which might make playing more comfortable in hot weather.
The fact that playing on grass can assist players’ bodies last longer is another advantage. Grass is additionally thought to be more aesthetically beautiful than synthetic turf, which some supporters favor. Currently, nine of the sixteen NFL teams who play on actual grass do so on Bermuda grass, a tough, durable material. Many NFL players have voiced their support for playing on grass rather than synthetic turf. One explanation for this is that grass is seen to be safer for players than artificial turf since it is softer and less flexible. Furthermore, grass offers better traction and footing, which might help avoid injuries.
Benefits of having natural grass over artificial turf include the ability to self repair and the costs to remove are low. All athletic fields experience wear and tear over time. Natural grass fields that are still alive have the capacity to recover. Surfaces created by humans cannot fix themselves. In comparison to artificial fields, natural grass fields can endure two to three times longer. The material used in the artificial turf is not very environmentally friendly and there isn’t a whole lot of information or facts that back up these products used to make the artificial turf. If the materials used to manufacture the artificial turf doesn’t have the information behind it, then it may not be the products to use for professional athletes because of the risks of injury. The NFL would be doing themselves a favor by converting all artificial turf fields in the league to natural grass no matter the costs and possible cons to having the natural grass. Removing artificial turf from the National Football League would most certainly benefit not only the players, coaches and commissioner but also the entire football community may feel a sign of relief if it were set to change. Instead of basing the importance off of costs and saving, move to protecting the players in the league instead.
At all levels of competition, the usage of artificial turf fields has been a significant subject of debate among players, coaches, trainers, and doctors ever since they were first introduced in the 1960s. The usage of artificial turf fields at all levels of competition in a number of sports has steadily expanded, mostly due to advantageous long-term cost profiles, enhanced durability, and more constant playing conditions compared to natural grass. In order to give the surface a more natural feel and, theoretically, reduce field-related injuries, manufacturers have made substantial adjustments to these products over the past 50 years, altering fiber type and density, increasing underfield cushioning, and adding rubberized fill. However, concerns of higher injury rates continue to plague use of these surfaces. Increased frictional force on all varieties of artificial turf has typically been supported by biomechanical studies, theoretically raising the risk of injury in comparison to natural grass.Real grass also absorbs carbon dioxide, which releases oxygen into the atmosphere, resulting in more protection of the water supply. Despite the findings, the football community still debates this year in and year out.
A field needs to be correctly planned and built, frequently maintained by trained workers, and have usage that is restricted and limited in order to retain a good quality stand of natural grass. The natural grass cover on the field will deteriorate over time if any one of the three components is absent. Natural grass requires a lot of maintenance to keep the grass in the best shape possible for the athletes playing weekly on the surface. A maintenance schedule that includes mowing, fertilizer, watering, aeration, and overseeding for natural grass athletic fields will keep the grass healthy year-round and provide a secure playing surface throughout the season. Natural grass will become unsatisfactory and unsuitable for sports participation if the grass is not maintained properly. Some sports have moved their stadiums indoors to withstand harsh or unpredictable weather, but growing traditional grass indoors presents new difficulties. Artificial turf is a great option for interior environments because it does not need the usual growing conditions, such as sunlight or watering. The environmental problems resulting from the artificial turf installments are much more detrimental than paying for the extra maintenance to keep a grass field up to par. Several field studies have been carried out to ascertain the effects of tire chips and shreds used in civil engineering applications on the quality of surface water and groundwater. These investigations included sampling of existing sites, field trials, and follow-up monitoring for up to two years. Although their concentrations typically did not go above their individual maximum contamination levels (MCLs) for drinking water, Fe, Mn, Zn, and Al proved to be the most concerning contaminants overall, whereas organic contaminants were only present at trace levels. These findings call for additional field research with controls as they raise the possibility that groundwater or surface water may be impacted by scrap tire materials.
A study conducted in the article, Determination of priority and other hazardous substances in football fields of synthetic turf by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry: A health and environmental concern, states,
“Samples from fifteen football fields were analyzed, and the results revealed the presence of 24 of the 40 target compounds, including 14 of the 16 EPA PAHs, with total concentrations up to 50 μg g−1. Heavy metals such as Cd, Cr and Pb were also found. A partial transfer of organic compounds to the air and runoff water was also demonstrated. The analysis of rainwater collected directly from the football field showed the presence of a high number of the target compounds at concentrations reaching above 100 μg L−1. The environmental risk arising from the burning of crumb rubber tires has been assessed, as well, analyzing the crumb rubber, and the air and water in contact with this material, showing a substantial increase in both the number and concentration of the hazardous chemicals.Another point to keep in mind is that these surfaces are periodically watered to maintain their physical properties. This type of practice, together with rainwater may favor the leaching of metals and hazardous organic compounds from the crumb rubber, whose final fate are sewage waters, groundwater and/or natural surface waters, thereby implying an environmental risk . On the other hand, volatile and semivolatile compounds may also be transferred to the air above the surfaces , especially in summer when the surfaces can reach very high temperatures being the hazardous chemicals more accessible to players by inhalation. In this way, children are the most potentially affected by playing on these surfaces, since their breathing rate is higher than adults and the entrance of potentially toxic substances in their organism may be easier, and the consequence more dangerous.”
Due to their ability to cleanse water and break down pollutants as they pass through the root zone, turf grasses and the soil microbes that coexist with them in turf environments help to reduce environmental contamination. Rainfall can become so acidic due to atmospheric pollution that it harms the ecology. However, passing rainwater through a healthy grass field can cut its acidity in half compared to its unfiltered original level. This enhances the quality of groundwater and lessens water body contamination in rivers and lakes. Artificial turf has also been found to trap and store carbon that may contribute to global warming. Grass fields sometimes have the potential to regenerate, which implies that they not only flourish but also get better over time. The field helps to maintain the environment in and around it as it develops stronger and more resilient, requiring less fertilizer and water. This includes improved soil, which benefits not just the grass plant system but also the field’s ecosystem as a whole.
The detrimental cautions to our environment should be at the top of the list when looking at changing the surfaces used in the National Football League. The information presented is not appealing to the viewers and followers of the league and certainly is not welcoming any parents to allow their children to start participating in this sport because of the environmental risks it creates. The league needs to do better in protecting its players no matter the costs and hassle that it may bring.
The NFL views would be considered twisted in that the main focus perceived is installing artificial turf is to save as much money as possible but also make the fields somewhat suitable for the players. The amount of injuries suffered on these artificial turf surfaces and the environmental issues resulting should not be viewed as just a number the league looks at each year and hopes it lowers the next year.
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Cheng, H., Hu, Y., & Reinhard, M. (2014). Environmental and health impacts of artificial turf: a review. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(4), 2114–2129. https://doi.org/10.1021/es4044193
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Red Hen Turf Farm – Features and Benefits of Natural Grass Sports Fields. (2020). Redhenturf.com. https://www.redhenturf.com/Sport_featuresBenefitsNatural.htm
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TLMG, R. (2022, May 13). Does the NFL Prefer Grass or Artificial Turf? The Turfgrass Group Inc. https://theturfgrassgroup.com/general/does-the-nfl-prefer-grass-or-turf/
Turf Leads to More ACL Injuries — Fact or Fiction? (2021, January 21). Curovate. https://curovate.com/blog/turf-leads-to-more-acl-injuries-fact-or-fiction/
Tretter, J. (n.d.). Only Natural Grass Can Level The NFL’s Playing Field. NFL Players Association. https://nflpa.com/posts/only-natural-grass-can-level-the-nfls-playing-field