Kevin SeifertESPN Staff Writer4 Minute Reading
Noncontact injuries for NFL players occurred at a higher rate on artificial turf compared to grass during the 2022 regular season, according to data released this week by the NFL Players Association.
The gap emerged a year after the league moved to neutralize the debate over the two types of playing surfaces based on 2021 numbers.
Players have long said they prefer grass to artificial turf, arguing that it’s not only safer but also better to play on. In a essay posted on the NFLPA website On Wednesday, union president JC Tretter said the rate of damage to grass surfaces was lower from 2012 to 2020. Although the rates were about the same in 2021, Tretter called that an “outlier.”
“Instead of following the long-term data (which is clear on this issue), listening to the players and making the game safer,” Tretter wrote, “the NFL used an outlier year to engage in a PR campaign to convince everyone that the problem really doesn’t exist.”
“In other words, last year, the gap — like the NFL’s credibility with the players on this issue — was as wide as it’s ever been,” Tretter continued, “proving that (as the NFLPA suspected) 2021 was in was actually an outlier. Now, 10 of the last 11 years show the same exact thing — grass is a safer surface than turf.”
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president for communications, public affairs and policy, said in a statement released Thursday that “there are no simple answers” in this discussion.
“The NFL and the NFLPA have access to both injury information, which is collected by independent experts and shared at CBA-mandated Joint Field Surface Safety and Performance Committee meetings,” Miller said in the statement. “The committee, including NFLPA experts, believes that simply playing on natural grass is not the answer to this complex challenge. Some artificial turf surfaces have lower injury rates than others. grass field – and some grass fields have a lower injury rate than some artificial surfaces.
“Our goal is to reduce injuries on all surfaces. There are no simple answers, but we are committed to substantial, ongoing work with players and their expert advisors to make the game safer.”
That NFL/NFLPA committee uses a third-party company, IQIVA, to compile and analyze injury data. Responding to a public push last fall from players, coaches and agents to convert all stadiums to grass fields, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dismissed the idea based on IQIVA data.
“Our league statistics do not detect issues of type [of] surface we have [at AT&T Stadium] compared to natural grass,” Jones said. “We don’t see any issues. Nothing proves this.”
The surface committee pays particular attention to lower-extremity injuries that occur without contact and are potentially attributable to the surface itself, particularly to the knees, ankles and feet.
As recently as 2019, the rate of such injuries was significantly higher on artificial turf fields than on grass. But the difference began to narrow in 2020, and in 2021, the numbers were almost the same. Artificial surfaces had an incident rate of .042 per 100 in 2021, while the rate for natural surfaces was .041 per 100. That ratio was “replicated” in the 2022 preseason, Miller said. last fall.
That trend means that “the discussion between synthetic surfaces and natural grass surfaces is not really the argument,” Miller said at the time. Instead, he said, the NFL and NFLPA should try to “minimize injuries to both.”
But the entire data in 2022 returned to the old standards. The rate for noncontact lower-extremity injuries on artificial turf increased to a rate of .048 per 100. The corresponding rate on grass was 0.035.
In the post, Tretter also accused the NFL of allowing the Carolina Panthers to host a Week 16 game last season even after the artificial turf at Bank of America Stadium failed the league’s standard pregame test. According to Tretter, the league notified the NFLPA that the field reached acceptable conditions late in the first half.
“But the fact remains that the players in that game had to play on a field that the league recognized as unsafe,” Tretter said. “That is beyond disappointing to the players and unacceptable in the eyes of our union.”
The parties are headed for arbitration on the issue.
“The union’s claims are incorrect,” Miller said in Thursday’s statement. “But we will make our arguments to the appropriate grievance process mandated by the CBA, which is ongoing.”
Asked if they had any plans to change the surfaces or otherwise respond to the NFLPA’s claims, the Panthers provided a statement from a Tepper Sports Entertainment spokesperson: “We are still discussing our options internally. and no further updates at this time.”
ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton contributed to this story.