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New poll shows NFL Players believe the league’s artificial turf is a “real concern”

November 30, 2023  - By
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A new poll of NFL players published by The Athletic revealed that nearly 83 percent of those surveyed believe the league’s ongoing artificial turf vs. natural grass debate is a real concern. The poll drew 81 responses with 12 percent believing the issue is overblown.

One player told the publication that there is a clear difference in how he feels the day after playing on grass instead of artificial turf.

“You feel like s—,” the player said. “Especially being a big guy, running on turf, your knees hurt. When you fall and trip, you don’t want to get up. You feel it the next day a lot.”

The league has faced several major calls to replace artificial turf surfaces over the last year. In November 2022, NFL Players Association (NFLPA) President JC Tretter called for all teams to proactively change surfaces to natural grass in an open letter. In September of this year, Lloyd Howell, NFLPA executive director, also called for the switch to natural grass, following an injury to New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“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,” Howell said in his statement.

NFL owners and league officials, like Commissioner Roger Goodell, have been mixed, with Goodell telling ESPN’s First Take that the debate is “a complex issue,” that will take time and consultation with medical experts and engineers. Others, like Stephen Jones, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president, have said that natural grass is not feasible due to restrictions presented by domed stadiums.

“We don’t think we can have a quality natural grass in our stadium,” Jones told The Athletic. “If you’ve got indoor stadiums, it’s just very difficult if you don’t plan on the front end, like an Arizona did, to roll the grass in. And then sometimes they get criticized for the condition of the field because it doesn’t grow as well as if they were growing it full-time out there. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

More from the poll

In addition to thoughts on artificial turf, The Athletic‘s survey of NFL players asked for opinions on the best and worst places to play. Players named Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium the top place to play. The Chiefs play on Northbridge Bermudagrass maintained by groundskeeper Travis Hogan.

Players selected MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and Giants, as the worst place to play. Notably, MetLife’s turf has been the center of the artificial turf vs natural grass debate since 2020, when the San Francisco 49ers lost three players to knee injuries in the same game. 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan and his players were quick to point fingers at the surface following the game with defensive lineman Solomon Thomas calling the turf “trash”.

“I know our players talked about it the entire game, just how sticky the turf was. I think that was the first time people played on it. That was something our guys were concerned about right away and the result definitely made that a lot stronger,” Shanahan said.

Controversey surrounding the turf surfaced again during the NFL’s Black Friday game between the Jets and Miami Dolphins when Jaelan Phillips tore his achilles. Phillips’ teammates, including running back Raheem Mostert — one of the three 49ers’ to suffer an injury on the turf in 2020 — made comments on the turf following the game.

“It’s tough, especially playing on this turf,” Mostert said, according to the AP. “No player wants to go down with a significant injury. You saw what happened to Rodgers, his very first game within the first series. It just sucks, man. We’ve got to do something about this turf and this playing surface. Obviously, there is still a major problem. It just has to change.”

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About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Athletic Turf's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Athletic Turf, DiFranco was a sports reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio

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