Four snaps, 75 seconds. That is how long four-time National Football League MVP Aaron Rodgers’ 2023 season lasted before a tear in his Achilles brought it to a close.
Fall is here, and with it comes football. I love football; some of my fondest memories growing up revolved around watching my beloved Patriots on Sundays with my dad. However, Rodgers’ injury is yet another painful reminder that the NFL should finally switch all of their fields from turf to grass. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, 14 use real grass, 14 teams use artificial turf and two use Desso GrassMaster, which is a hybrid between artificial turf and grass.
According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “You have other players who like playing on the turf field, because it’s faster.” But Goodell made it clear that above all else the NFL’s main priority is to “go on science, we want to go on what’s the best from an injury standpoint.”
Despite his supposed commitment to safety, Goodell and the NFL have been presented with an overwhelming amount of scientific and anecdotal evidence from the NFL Players Association, the collective bargaining organization for the league’s players, citing that, in fact, grass is safer for players than turf.
According to a statement written by union president J.C. Tretter, “Based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, not only was the contact injury rate for lower extremities higher during practices and games held on artificial turf, NFL players consistently experienced a much higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries on turf compared to natural surfaces.” Additionally, Tretter pointed to the higher rates of non-contact injuries on turf compared to grass. Players, on average, had a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries and a stunning 69% higher rate of non-contact injuries on their feet and ankles on turf compared to grass.
Switching to grass has widespread support from players league-wide. Reigning Super Bowl MVP and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said in an ABC interview “The numbers say that grass is healthier for the players, and I want to play on the surface that keeps me healthy.”
But what exactly makes turf a dangerous alternative to grass? It all comes down to movement. Turf fields do not absorb nearly as much contact as grass fields do, so when athletes plant their feet in the ground to change direction or increase their speed, their ligaments and tendons absorb far more stress than they would if they were on a grass field.
So if the scientific data shows switching to grass fields is a safer, widely-supported option, why has the league still refused to make the change to grass fields? According to Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, “The bottom dollar, bottom line. Follow the money. Simple as that”
Turf is considerably cheaper and easier to maintain than natural grass. In addition, turf does not require the use of pesticides and chemicals, something that is required for natural grass.
On average, synthetic turf costs anywhere from $8,250-82,000. In contrast, it costs roughly $72,600-105,205 to maintain real grass. While it is true that turf is considerably cheaper than grass, let’s remember the organization we are talking about here.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar machine. In 2022 alone, the league made over $12 billion in revenue. That is $374.4 million per team. The idea that these teams could not afford the replacement cost of turf to grass is simply ludicrous.
Switching to grass fields is not going to be a universal fix that will magically stop all injuries. They will still happen; it’s the nature of football. But the NFL owes it to the players who make this league so great to finally address this error. The NFL must once and for all level the playing field and switch their fields from turf to grass.