At a time when much of the media’s focus justifiably remains on the league’s shoddy efforts to protect spouses, wives, and girlfriends from violence committed by NFL players, there needs to be more focus on the efforts of the NFL to protect players from unnecessary injuries arising from horrible field conditions.
It’s been a problem for years, with some teams insisting on keeping grass playing surfaces because they look better on TV. So what if they create avoidable safety hazards for players?
The issue came up twice last week. In Denver, the Broncos’ field looked like Centre Court at Wimbledon during the men’s final. The team said that, despite the noticeable areas where grass wasn’t where it was supposed to be, the field was fine.
That’s not what Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said after Seattle played there in the preseason.
“I can’t wait to get back to Seattle because this field was awful,” Baldwin said. “I don’t know if you guys noticed, but the receivers and tight ends were slipping all over the place. This field is terrible.”
In Houston, Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney tore a meniscus on a fairly routine leap-and-landing at NRG Stadium. Teammate D.J. Swearinger attributed the injury to the much-maligned (but still unchanged) grass field.
“He told me on the field when it happened, he was just like, ‘Bro, I just jumped, came down and hit one of the holes on the field,’” Swearinger said. “There are a few holes in the grass, so he said he thought he stepped on one of those holes and got hurt.”
Former Patriots receiver Wes Welker suffered a non-contact ACL tear on that same field during a meaningless Week 17 game in January 2010. Years before that, another former Patriots player realized that the field needs plenty of work.
“The turf at [NRG Stadium] is the worst in the league,” NBC’s Rodney Harrison told me in the wake of Swearinger’s comments. “In the Super Bowl, we were slipping and sliding all over the place. We had a couple of opportunities to make plays and we slid past it. I also hurt my groin sliding on that garbage field.”
Harrison said the stadium is beautiful, but the “field conditions were terrible.” He said that the turf was “one of the worst I’ve experienced in my 15-year career.”
So how does the NFL allow the field to continue to be in that type of condition? How does owner Bob McNair not insist that his players be more protected against avoidable injury?
Setting aside for now the reality that, if players were getting concussions due to the field conditions the problem would have been solved several years ago, owners should want the fields to be as close to perfect as possible, because the owners have made a huge investment in the men who play on those fields.
Even without the investment, these players despite the numbers and pads and helmets are human beings, supposedly members of a broader football family. In a game filled with unavoidable safety risks, shouldn’t every team want to ensure that these men aren’t being exposed to additional risks unnecessarily?
UPDATE 2:43 p.m. ET: For Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, the team’s tray system was removed for a continuous sod system. Either way, the complaints about the playing surface there have been consistent, and ignored.