Slit-film synthetic turf surfaces should be banned from American Football, claims the association that protects the interest of NFL players. They claim slit-film surfaces have a statistically higher in-game injury rate compared to other surfaces.
Synthetic turf for American Football uses either monofilament, dual fibre or slit-film yarns. According to the NFLPA, the latter are to blame for statistically higher in-game injury rates compared to all other surfaces for each of the following:
- Non-contact injuries
- Missed time injuries
- Lower extremity injuries
- Foot and ankle injuries
The NFL has refuted the claim. “While slit-film surfaces, one type of synthetic material, have 2-3 more injuries per year, most of them are ankle sprains – a low-burden injury – whereas slit film also sees a lower rate of fewer high-burden ACL injuries compared to other synthetic fields. As a result, the league and NFLPA’s joint experts did not recommend any changes to surfaces at the meeting but agreed more study is needed,” NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Miller said in a statement to ESPN.
Data from as recently as 2019 show that the rate of such injuries was notably higher on synthetic turf fields than grass. But the difference began narrowing in 2020, and by 2021, the numbers were almost the same. Synthetic turf surfaces had an incident rate of .042 per 100 in 2021, while the rate for natural surfaces was .041 per 100. It is unclear what has caused this decline.
“The takeaway from all of this data is that the discussion comparing synthetic surfaces and natural grass surfaces isn’t really the argument,” Miller said. “What we’re trying to do is decrease injuries on both. As a general matter, looking at synthetic versus natural doesn’t really provide us the information we need to try to drive those injury rates down.”
‘Remove slit-film surfaces’
Out of the 30 NFL stadiums, 16 have real grass, while the other 14 have synthetic turf. Of those, the New York Giants, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals all have a slit-film surface. Following the uproar, the New York Giants released a statement that they will replace the surface next year. However, the statement also made it clear that, despite all voiced preferences, the new surface will be synthetic turf again.
The NFLPA have engaged the NFL directly and have asked them for the immediate removal of synthetic turf surfaces and to ban them, going forward.
Thus far, the NFL has refused to mandate this change immediately or to commit to mandating a change away from slit film in the future at all.
Stricter on surface quality
In a statement, the NFLPA also calls the quality of the synthetic turf field at Tottenham Stadium into question. The surface is installed underneath big containers that form a grass surface for the Tottenham Hotspurs football team, and only appears when the stadium is hosting an NFL game.
According the NFLPA, the field had a giant uneven seam right above the numbers recently. Despite being clearly visible, the NFL claimed that the field had passed the mandatory inspection. However, inspections do not account for performance and safety of the field.
Call for grass gets louder
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken the opportunity to advocate for the use of grass or hybrid fields. The Packers play their home games on an SISGrass hybrid field, where a natural Kentucky bluegrass has polyethylene yarns stitched in the field.
“I do think it’s time to go all grass throughout the league,” Rodgers told ESPN. “I think you would see less of these noncontact injuries that we see on some of the surfaces, and I think that it’d be a step in the right direction towards player safety to make the requirement for every field to be grass.”
“The natural grass has a tendency to sheer and rip out when you’re playing football, when the cleats are in that grass and something has got to give. Artificial grass is less likely to give when somebody’s foot is getting twisted or is caught,” John Royals, an instructor of Turf Grass Management Technology at Central Piedmont Community College, told WBTV.