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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

Less Fake, Less Ache: The NFL Players Association Calls for Grass Fields in All Stadiums

With player injuries on the rise, fans and athletes are becoming more and more skeptical of the NFL’s use of turf.
MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Jets and Giants, is one of the 15 fields in the NFL that are made of turf. The other 15 fields use grass. (Photo Credit: Myron Mott / Unsplash)

Veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed with the National Football League’s (NFL) New York Jets last April 2023. He signed a two-year, 75 million-dollar contract, and his addition to the team rapidly placed the Jets in the Super Bowl conversation. Just 94 seconds into his Week 1 game, though, Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon, consequently cutting his 2023 season short. Two days later, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) called for all turf NFL fields, including MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and where Rodgers was injured, to convert to grass fields due to safety concerns with synthetic playing surfaces.  

Turf fields pose various threats to athletes’ bodies. The NFLPA stated, “Professional football players put extremely high levels of force and rotation onto the playing surface. Grass will eventually give, which often releases the cleat prior to reaching an injurious load. On synthetic surfaces, there is less give, meaning our feet, ankles, and knees absorb the force, which makes injury more likely to follow.”

Numerous professional football players have noticed obstacles while playing on turf. On the Up & Adams show hosted by Kay Adams, Deebo Samuel, a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, said, “I would definitely prefer grass, any day, any time of the week because I feel like [with] turf, it’s just way harder to stop, it hurts your knees, your back, and the feel of it, as a receiver, as in pounding your feet in the ground, it just takes a toll on your body.” 

Although turf fields have their downsides, there’s a reason half of the NFL utilizes turf. According to Keystone Sports Construction, turf requires little to no maintenance and does not need pesticides or fertilizers to upkeep, making it environmentally friendly. Additionally, turf requires much less water than a grass field since turf does not need to grow. With turf being unaffected by inclement weather and, for the most part, slip-resistant, its durability keeps many professional football teams loyal to turf fields. Taking into consideration the maintenance and longevity of turf, it is a much cheaper option than grass fields. 

However, just because grass is more expensive, does not mean it isn’t the better option. Players across the league agree that grass is the better of the two surfaces, not just for safety concerns, but it also generally feels better to play on.

While reflecting on his return to the NFL after tearing his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), veteran linebacker Von Miller of the Buffalo Bills discussed his feelings on the Pat McAfee Show regarding the low-grade quality of the turf field he played on at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “I really couldn’t believe that we had high-class athletes playing on this stuff. It was insane. It just felt like it was hard, and it was tight, and it just felt stiff, it felt like it didn’t have any padding underneath, and I’ve been playing football in the league for 13 years and that was some of the worst turf that I’ve played on.”

The voices of professional football athletes against turf have been reflected through their Player’s Association. It is now in the hands of the NFL executives to decide where these athletes will play. 

Lloyd Howell, NFLPA executive director, released a statement stating, “Moving all stadium fields to high quality natural grass surfaces is the easiest decision the NFL can make. The players overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that grass is simply safer than artificial turf. It is an issue that has been near the top of the players’ list during my team visits and one I have raised with the NFL. While we know there is an investment to making this change, there is a bigger cost to everyone in our business if we keep losing our best players to unnecessary injuries.”

Before turf was introduced to the professional sports sphere, grass was seen across all stadiums. Once one of the stadiums shifted to turf, many stadiums followed suit. The first major sports stadium to go from a grass to a turf field was the Houston Astrodome in 1966. They used ChemGrass, which is now commonly known as AstroTurf. AstroTurf is made of “a short-fiber, dense nylon carpet, installed over a compacted soil… a closed-cell, elastomeric foam pad was installed between the carpet backing and the soil.” AstroTurf’s appeal stems from its resilience to high foot traffic, significantly decreasing the amount of maintenance needed. Less upkeep is required after concerts or major sporting events. 

By the 1980s, physicians and trainers became increasingly aware of the danger that players were in when playing on AstroTurf. The number of football players tearing their ACL, getting concussions, and injuring their ankles while playing on AstroTurf was gradually increasing. As the NFL learned that the tough lower layer of AstroTurf was causing career-ending injuries to professional players, FieldTurf eventually replaced AstroTurf, with the benefits of a softer and safer surface. FieldTurf is still being implemented in many current NFL stadiums, while AstroTurf has gone extinct within the league.  

Even as professional athletes gravitate towards grass fields, turf is still favored by many student-athletes. A survey that I conducted among a random selection of Bronx Science’s outdoor athletes revealed that 50% of those surveyed prefer turf while the other 50% prefer grass.

Caroline Ferrell ’26, a member of the Bronx Science Girls’ Varsity Soccer and Varsity Lacrosse teams, said, “Playing on grass can be such a hit or miss especially in New York City, where there aren’t a lot of accessible, well-maintained grass fields. I prefer playing on turf because there is less of a chance of the field impacting ball movement.”

A poorly maintained grass field is a nightmare for many athletes. Rocks or miscellaneous debris and hidden holes in the ground can injure players and balls may not roll as predicted, worsening an athlete’s performance.  

Ferrell added, “Harris Field is the exception for turf fields because I would rather play on a lot of mediocre grass fields than play on Harris, which is basically concrete.”

Most outdoor Bronx Science athletes are familiar with the difficulties of playing on Harris Field. Harris Field is uncomfortable and poorly maintained. The uneven surface, empty patches, and loose turf fragments make practicing a sport more difficult than it needs to be. Even after briefly walking on the field, you might find that the turf has found its way up to your shoes and into your socks and will stay in your socks after several rounds of laundry. Fixing the turf on Harris Field would improve the performance of the athletes practicing there daily. Undeniably, a grass field used by so many athletes would be burdensome to take care of, but replacing the turf now and then is a worthwhile investment. 

All things considered, it would be within the NFL’s best interest to replace all of their turf fields with grass, especially because they have the funds to do so. However, recreational turf is a different story, as paying for grass would be a much more difficult task.

Lloyd Howell, NFLPA executive director, released a statement stating, “Moving all stadium fields to high quality natural grass surfaces is the easiest decision the NFL can make. The players overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that grass is simply safer than artificial turf.”

About the Contributor
Aviv Kotok, Staff Reporter
Aviv Kotok is a Copy Chief and Social Media Editor for ‘The Science Survey.’ She finds that the most appealing part of journalistic writing is the research involved in producing an article since it allows her to delve deeper into a topic in which she is interested. Her favorite topics to report on are music and sports. She loves journalistic photography because it gives her the ability to capture different viewpoints from varying perspectives. Outside of school, Aviv is found crocheting, reading, playing lacrosse, listening to music and playing musical instruments, or spending time with her friends and family. She is not certain as to what she will pursue after high school, but she aims to explore the intersection of STEM and humanities and hopes to incorporate journalism in this process.