Grass wars

Jeff Kerr:

Super Bowl LVI on Sunday significantly changed after Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was lost for the game due to a knee injury after his leg was caught on the SoFi Stadium artificial turf. Beckham, who had two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown on three targets, was dominating the league championship game before the injury.

Not only was Beckham unable to play for the rest of Super Bowl LVI, but he has to worry about his future after suffering what is expected to be another torn ACL to the same knee he injured last season while on the Browns, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jason Las Canfora. Beckham’s injury caused NFL players, current and former, to eliminate the use of field turf at stadiums.

Of course, the $5 billion SoFi Stadium is one of them.

There’s a lot of support for natural grass fields, but what is the “Flip The Turf” campaign? Half of the league’s teams play on artificial turf, which is why players are pushing for change. There are statistics in the campaign to back up why fields should switch from turf to grass.

In the petition, turf fields have:

  • 28% more non-contact lower body injuries.
  • 32% more non-contact knee injuries and 69% more non-contact foot and ankle injuries occurred on turf.
  • Turf can get up to 60 degrees hotter than natural grass, increasing the rate at which toxic gases are released and ingested.

There are also environmental issues behind the campaign:

  • Currently, turf can’t be recycled in the US, leading to an estimated 330 million pounds of landfill waste each year, and microplastics in our water and irrigation systems.
  • On average, one turf field requires over 440,000 pounds of petroleum derivatives. The production of which emits carbon, creates fossil fuels, and contributes to global warming.
  • Unlike grass, turf does not cool the environment. It does not filter air and water pollutants. It does not fix carbon dioxide or release oxygen. Turf has zero climate benefits.

Players are pushing for change. perhaps Super Bowl LVI may be the breaking point.

(For NFL players accustomed to gas-hogging sports cars and SUVs and flying in private jets to be raising environmental issues is a little hypocritical, but be that as it may ….)

Beckham’s first knee injury happened on artificial turf, at, of all places, Cincinnati. Paul Brown Stadium had grass when it opened, but converted to turf, as did the Houston Texans’ stadium. Conversely, the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium started with turf and then converted to grass.

This is, remember, the much-improved turf (supposedly) from the bad old days of carpet of 1/4-inch blades, essentially green-painted asphalt at Camp Randall Stadium and every other college stadium I marched in in five years in the UW Marching Band. But NFL players, all of whom are too young to remember the old turf, seem unimpressed with the new turf.

Lambeau Field has a hybrid surface of grass with plastic blades to keep the grass in place. (The Packers also use grow lights to keep the grass growing as late in the season as possible.) That would seem to be the ultimate grass surface, and the company that sells it, GrassMaster, also equips many soccer pitches in Europe, but at only one other NFL stadium, in Philadelphia.

The Arizona Cardinals’ stadium and the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium have grass fields that slide out fo the stadium during the week to get sun and rain, then slide back in for game day. The Raiders’ stadium has a turf surface underneath, and that was what the Badgers played on for the Las Vegas Bowl in December.

The problem with replacing turf with grass is that the team ends up losing its practice field, since most college teams with turf practice in their stadium, such as UW. (The original turf went in in the late 1960s, and I believe the old football practice fields are either parking lots or buildings.) That should make one skeptical that colleges will be replacing turf with grass anytime soon.

Whether NFL teams replace turf with grass is a more interesting question. In the NFC North Minnesota and Detroit have indoor stadiums, and so putting grass in would be complicated. (Grass was put in temporarily in the Pontiac Silverdome for the 1994 World Cup and in the Louisiana Superdome as an experiment or a Packers’ preseason game back in the Brett Favre era.)

This will be interesting to watch if expensive NFL players continue to get hurt on turf fields.



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