NFLPA renews call for safer fields

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In recent weeks, numerous players and coaches have called for safer playing fields. This week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tried to pooh-pooh those concerns — and he found immediate support from NFL-backed statistics that, as always, can be twisted to support nearly any given premise.

The NFL Players Association has responded, accusing the “NFL PR machine [of going] into overdrive to spin a more favorable narrative to what the union and players know is a problem.”

NFLPA president JC Tretter, in a followup to his September 2020 column calling for all grass fields, has more specific requests this time around. In a new item posted at the union’s official website, Tretter requests: (1) the immediate replacement and ban of all slit-film turf; (2) no longer allowing games to be played on fields with “clear visual abnormalities”; (3) the raising of the field standards and testing the safety and performance of all surfaces; (4) the clearing the excess people and dangerous equipment from the sidelines.

Tretter explains, as to the first item, that “slit-film” playing surfaces have “higher in-game injury rates” compared to all other surfaces for non-contact injuries, missed time injuries, lower extremity injuries, and foot/ankle injuries. He said that the union wrote a letter this week to the NFL “demanding the immediate removal” of those surfaces.

Teams currently using slit-film turf, per Tretter, after the Giants, Jets, Lions, Vikings, Saints, Colts, and Bengals.

“The injuries on slit film are completely avoidable — both the NFL and NFLPA experts agree on the data — and yet the NFL will not protect players from a subpar surface,” Tretter writes.

As to the second item, Tretter points to the regular-season games played in Tottenham, which “had a giant uneven seam right above the numbers.” (We pointed that out in connection with the Giants-Packers game played there last month.)

“We saw this in Chicago and Las Vegas during the preseason as well, with chunks of grass torn up,” Tretter adds. “This is an embarrassment.”

Says Tretter: “The NFL might be quick to say something like, ‘those fields have passed their mandatory inspections.’ While, again, this is a great PR spin, it does not address the need for safety improvements.”

As we explained in connection with the Tottenham situation, what was the alternative to playing the game? At a time when the NFL is desperately trying to globalize the sport, pulling the plug on a game before kickoff and sending everyone home with a rain check or a refund would not have helped the cause. It’s an unfortunate reality, and it will be hard to change that mindset — especially in international games.

As to the third item, Tretter points out that the current field standards are more than 13 years old. He notes that the league and the union “are currently engaged in research to, for the first time, establish” new performance and safety standards that can be used for every field.

“Until we have those standards in place, the NFL needs to be much more conservative when we have visible issues with the fields,” Tretter asserts. “The current field inspections do not account for performance and safety, so we should stop saying that these fields are safe to play on based on the fact they passed said inspection.”

He’s right. But, again, the league surely regards the alternative — postponing or canceling regular-season games — to be unacceptable. After two years of holding the season together through COVID, good luck getting the league to slam the brakes on a game, and in turn screw up the overall schedule, because of concerns regarding the condition of the field.

As to the final point, Tretter again nails it. He said that the league says every year that it will look into streamlining the clutter around the field, but that it never does. (Except during the pandemic.)

Tretter’s column concludes with a clear message for owners. “Stop with the lip service, stop with the media spin, stop pretending you care. And if you actually do care, take the actionable steps to fix the problems our union has identified, especially those issues you actually agree with.”

Even if they don’t care about the players as human beings (and plenty of owners simply don’t), they should care about them as investments. That’s the most amazing part of this. Tens of millions of dollars are devoted to paying players and otherwise keeping them in the right condition to perform. Why not do everything possible to give them playing surfaces that don’t make it harder to stay healthy?

It’s ultimately a cost-benefit analysis, for some owners. It will simply cost too much to improve the surfaces, and they aren’t able or willing to quantify the benefits. Even if those benefits are obvious, regardless of whether the players are regarded as people or as robots.

23 responses to “NFLPA renews call for safer fields

  1. Injuries are going to occur regardless of the surface they play on – that being said I don’t trust the NFL’s data that artificial turf isn’t anymore dangerous than real grass. It all boils down to cost – natural grass costs more to maintain than a artificial turf and those savings go straight into the pockets of the NFL, Stadium ownership groups & team owners that insist on using the fake stuff!

  2. I don’t know what the hell a slit-film field is, but those teams mentioned have fields that look like crap on TV. The owners might care about THAT if they don’t care about injuries.

  3. And when players find out that more expensive grass fields will eat away at their cut of NFL revenues, they’ll back off too.

    Just like how players “hate” Thursday night games, but NOT enough to say no to the extra $576 MILLION (48% of Amazon Prime’s $1.2 billion/yr deal) those games brings to their wallet.

  4. If the home team can not provide a grass field that can pass inspection that team will forfeit the game.That will get the owners on board

  5. Yes, it would be profitable and sensible to install better field surfaces, but that would require them to be thinking several steps ahead. Owners are human, and not everyone is capable of planning and seeing that far in advance.

  6. I have no idea what the actual rates of injuries are, but let’s be honest: some of the absolute worst fields we’ve seen in the NFL are grass fields in the rain or in the winter. Especially when the local city (which are the actual owners of the VAST majority of NFL fields) rented the place out for another use in the days before a game.

  7. There is a problem with the turf…I’ve played baseball on it. I’m faster on turf and so is everyone else. Because it gives you better traction, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The cleats dig in and there’s no give. The tendons and ligaments absorb the jolt… not good.

  8. I like how you use some data to support this, and completely dismiss data that doesn’t support it.

  9. Yeah, OK, who’s kidding whom here …

    Jones’ best game this season was last week against the hapless Colts. He put up an impressive 147 yards passing on an even more impressive 4.9 yards-per-attempt. 1 sack every 7 or so dropbacks.

    He had 1 TD on a “drive” that began at the Colts’ 2YL. It took two plays to score from there. That was his only contribution to scoring. The Pats’ D was responsible for the same, and the K put in 12.

    It appears that instead of taking one of the train wheels off, they added a third instead.

  10. NFL grass fields should not have college teams playing on them. The NCAA makes plenty of money to help colleges have their own fields.

  11. The NFLPA has always been looked upon as a joke. Nobody respects that organization (and I use the term loosely). The NFL is a group of 32 private businesses. It’s a great entertainment industry. It’s grown in popularity and revenue every year. The NFLPA is like a tiny puppy nipping at the heels of a giant elephant. Most of what they say and do is just ignored. I have no problem with a strong union, but the NFLPA is anything but.

  12. Football is meant to be played outdoors, on grass fields in the elements. If it wasn’t then they would have made it a summer sport. Some traditions need to remain fully intact. Don’t give me that fans won’t show up as I will point to Buffalo and Green Bay as examples. It’s the product not the weather.

  13. akira0724 says:
    November 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm
    And when players find out that more expensive grass fields will eat away at their cut of NFL revenues, they’ll back off too.

    The allocation of revenue to salaries has nothing to do with the cost of one kind of field or another.

    Salary cap is determined on a basis of league revenue, not net profit.

  14. Need to also research the newer generation of helmets being used. Large uptick in concussions. It is not due to closer scrutiny to spot them.

  15. If they’re seriously concerned about player safety, they need to find another avenue to increased revenue other than Thursday night games and 2-4 games in 10-12 days for teams altogether! Thursday night games suck because teams don’t have time to recover and because it’s a bad idea! How can you protect teams from concussions by submitting them to the equivalent of multiple car crashes several times a week! Smarter heads need to prevail here!

  16. Please… when players in college and the NFL stop wearing “pants” that are shorter than my normal swimsuit I’ll believe they’re concerned with safety. How many years before they’re wearing “pants” that look like 1970s NBA nut huggers

  17. charliecharger says: “The NFLPA has always been looked upon as a joke. Nobody respects that organization (and I use the term loosely).”

    I wish my “weak” union could negotiate a $6.662 BILLION deal for just 1,700 union members…

  18. Figure out the best possible playing surface and make it standard in every NFL stadium.

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