There’s been significant pressure from NFL players for years for the league to mandate all-grass surfaces. That escalated this week with a post on the NFLPA website Wednesday from union president JC Tretter. Tretter’s post said data showed there were less non-direct contact injuries on grass every year from 2012-2020 and again in 2022.
In that post, Tretter included numerous graphs tracking those injuries over time, plus a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018. He wrote “Instead of following the long-term data (which is clear on this issue), listening to players and making the game safer, the NFL used an outlier year [2021, where injury rates on the surfaces were similar] to engage in a PR campaign to convince everyone that the problem doesn’t actually exist.”
Last year the NFL touted data to push the narrative that turf was just as safe as grass. Here is proof that the data they used was an outlier, how it highlights the credibility gap on health and safety and why players are right to call for safer surfaces. https://t.co/NAnu9c94Zu
— JC Tretter (@JCTretter) April 19, 2023
That led to a notable response Thursday from NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy Jeff Miller:
“The Committee, including the NFLPA’s experts, believe that simply playing on natural grass is not the answer to this complex challenge.” pic.twitter.com/fZYaKDls6M
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) April 21, 2023
Beyond a divide over league-wide surfaces, Tretter’s post raised specific issues with the Carolina Panthers’ turf field on Christmas Eve ahead of a game against the Detroit Lions (the game seen at top). There, he wrote that the Bank of America Stadium field failed the Clegg test (measuring field hardness) pregame, but the NFL proceeded with the game anyway. The field reportedly passed the test late in the first half, but Tretter wrote that the NFLPA is not satisfied with that, saying “the players in that game had to play on a field that the league acknowledges was not safe. That is beyond frustrating to players and unacceptable in the eyes of our union.”
Miller responded to that claim from the NFLPA with a dispute without details. But he did say the NFL plans to resolve that particular issue via a grievance process rather than in public: “The union’s assertions are incorrect. But we will make our arguments in the appropriate CBA-mandated grievance process, which is ongoing.”
The push for all-grass fields has been going for some time. Last fall, several top NFL players tweeted demands for grass. Here are some of those tweets:
I believe that we — and all teams — should be playing on grass.
This is an age-old issue, and I believe the time to address the problem is now!
Let's have the conversation.#saferfields
— Cooper Kupp (@CooperKupp) November 12, 2022
Field conditions impact everyone, from players to fans to coaches and GMs. No one wants to see players sidelined by injury because owners choose to save money over a bad field. #SaferFields @NFLPA @nfl
— George Kittle (@gkittle46) November 12, 2022
Nfl says they care about player safety yet they can’t put us on a natural surface #saferfields
— Nick Bosa (@nbsmallerbear) November 12, 2022
The data is clear and the NFL agrees: Slit film synthetic surface is bad for players, and there is a higher injury rate than on grass or any other synthetic surface. #SaferFields
— Gabe Davis (@gabedavis13_) November 12, 2022
And the union escalated that push further this week with Tretter’s post, and provided data supporting their argument. But, at least as per Miller’s statement here, the league continues to claim there is “no simple answer.” So we probably won’t see all-grass surfaces across the NFL any time soon.