Artificial Turf: A Dangerous Playing Surface


Some of the changes that have occurred in professional football were
necessary for the game. Pads, helmets and other protective equipment helped the
players safety. Other developments though, especially artificial turf, have
proven themselves detrimental to the game and its participants. Just as changes
were made earlier, they must be made again. Stadiums need to convert back to
grass playing fields for the safety of football players, the satisfaction of the
fans, and most importantly to improve the sport overall.

What Is Artificial Turf?

Like Kleenex or Xerox, AstroTurf has become the popular moniker for all
artificial playing surfaces impersonating natural grass in the modern sports
world. Born in the 1960\'s out of a military project to improve the physical
fitness of urban teenagers, AstroTurf,along with its foreign and domestic
impostors that were eventually squeezed out of the industry, was developed as a
cheaper, more durable, low maintenance alternative to grass as a playing surface
for football, baseball, and soccer. The original sales pitch rang true with all
the sincerity of a beer commercial: All the fun of the regular grass, with only
a third of the maintenance. Monsanto, AstroTurf\'s original manufacturer, had an
ace in hole as well; grass doesn\'t grow very well in domes. Seduced by visions
of conquering Mother Nature and paying a couple kids minimum wage to run a
vacuum cleaner over the field between games, stadium executives across the
nation bought into the AstroTurf movement. However, as the powers that be soon
discovered f or themselves, AstroTurf proved to be neither cheaper nor lower
maintenance than grass, and it had a nasty little side effect. Players, coaches,
and trainers began to notice a substantial increase in the frequency of injuries
on the improved traction and reduced cushion of AstroTurf. Doctors even
identified and named a few new ones, common only to the artificial surface.

Turf Injuries

The relative hardness of AstroTurf has spawned an unpleasant little chronic
injury called turf toe. It occurs when the big toe is crushed into an artificial
surface, ramming the toe back up into the foot and ripping up any ligaments and
tissue it might encounter along the way. A little less serious but somewhat more
messy ailment turf burn, which like turf toe, simply would not exist without
Astroturf. Turf burn occurs just about anytime exposed skin comes in contact
with the artificial surface, which in a contact sport like football, is about
every thirty seconds. Because AstroTurf has about the same texture as a
toothbrush and it can sizzle at about 30 degrees higher than the air temperature
on a hot day, it rips off flesh with the efficiency of sandpaper. And aside from
the nagging pain and constant threat of infections, turf burn offers the added
bonus of making you stick to your sheets every night as you sleep. These,
however, are but minor ailments. The notion that an increase in major injuries,
particularly to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee is a direct result of
AstroTurf has been a more hotly debated issue. In 1974, the Stanford Research
Institute International (SRI) completed a six year study commissioned by the
National Football League on the health effects of artificial turf. SRI reported
that "in 17 out of 17 categories, natural grass was safer to play on than
artificial surfaces." Joe Grippo, the director of SRI, later admitted that
"synthetic surfaces could not be justified, not on an injury prevention basis,
not on a relative cost basis." Those facts, however, did not stop the NFL
Players Association from conducting its own injury studies. The NFLPA concluded
for the 1984 season that "the average turf injury took longer to heal, that the
number of players increased by a third and that the number of missed games
doubled when the injuries occurred on turf." More recently, an ESPN poll
conducted in September 1995 likewise found that 98 percent of NFL players
believe playing on AstroTurf will shorten their careers. The NFLPA\'s reasoning
for the increase in injuries echoed what common sense and trainers across the
League had been saying for years. AstroTurf, because of its augmented traction,
split seems, and permanent high and low spots (known as "birdbaths"), sometimes
causes a player\'s feet to stick to the ground. "The resulting torque places
enormous pressure on joints like the knee and the ankle, resulting in a greater
number of torn tendons and ligaments."

Football Players\' Preferences

The results of a January 1997 study by the NFL Players Association showed that
nine out of 10 NFL players believe playing on artificial turf is more likely
than grass to