Artificial turf vs. real grass: NFL's ongoing problem with playing surfaces
There is no set rule for real grass versus artificial turf, so it is up to each NFL stadium or football team to decide, but recent studies show that 58% more injuries happen on artificial turf than on real grass.
The debate between playing on natural grass or artificial turf is nothing new in the NFL.
However, it's been brought back to the forefront after a string of injuries during a Week 7 game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
SoFi Stadium, home of the Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams, uses an artificial surface.
Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf and Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson suffered knee injuries during the October 23rd game at SoFi Stadium, both on non-contact plays.
Jackson will miss the rest of the season after rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee, while Metcalf was able to play the following week.
A study by University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute analyzed data to compare injury rates on artificial versus natural playing surfaces among high school athletes – both male and female – for all sports played on a field.
"They found athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football," the sports medicine institute stated. "Lower extremity, upper extremity, and torso injuries were also found to occur with a higher incidence on artificial turf."
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Authors of previous studies found an increased rate of ACL injury in football athletes playing on artificial turf compared with natural grass, the study added.
Doctors say that even though the quality of artificial turf has improved dramatically over the past years, these studies suggest athletes should take preventative measures when playing on artificial turf.
What do NFL players and coaches prefer?
During a press conference, a couple of days after the game, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll stated he'd like to see a close reexamination of whether NFL stadiums should exclusively use natural grass.
"I think we definitely need to look at this really seriously in the offseason again," Carroll said. "It's been a discussion before. We've got to do what's right, and we've got to do what's safest for the players, and we've got to make those choices. I would pound on the drum for that."
NFL Players Association President JC Tretter called for all teams to use grass fields to reduce the risk of injury to players back in September 2020.
Tretter cited NFL injury data from 2012 to 2018 that showed a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower-extremity injuries on artificial turf as compared to grass. He also noted of those non-contact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a staggering 69% higher rate of non-contact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass.
The stance from Tretter and other NFL players is that artificial turf is significantly harder on the body than grass.
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How many NFL stadiums have real grass?
Sixteen NFL stadiums have real grass. Ten of them have Bermuda grass, three have Kentucky bluegrass, two have Desso Grassmaster, and one has a combination of different grasses.
GameOnGrass (GOG) has become a recently popular choice for those teams looking to have Bermuda grass.
"GOG is a sand-based sod grown on plastic, which creates an intense root mass and unparalleled durability," said Chad Price, owner of Carolina Green Corp.
The combination of the thickness and weight, and the intense root system from plastic grown, allow GOG to be laid and played on immediately.
GOG is currently on five NFL surfaces: Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Kansas City, and Tennessee.
How many NFL stadiums have artificial turf?
Sixteen NFL teams play home games on artificial turf across 14 stadiums. The Giants and Jets share a turf field in MetLife Stadium, while the Rams and Chargers share a turf dome in SoFi Stadium.
Which NFL stadiums have artificial turf, and which NFL teams have real grass?
Here is a full list of the playing surface for each NFL stadium:
- Arizona Cardinals State Farm Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Atlanta Falcons: Mercedes-Benz Superdome: FieldTurf CORE
- Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Buffalo Bills Highmark Stadium: A-Turf Titan
- Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium: FieldTurf
- Chicago Bears Soldier Field: Bermuda grass
- Cincinnati Bengals Paycor Stadium: UBU Speed Series S5-M Synthetic Turf
- Cleveland Browns FirstEnergy Stadium: Kentucky bluegrass
- Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium: Hellas Matrix Turf
- Denver Broncos Empower Field at Mile High: Kentucky bluegrass
- Detroit Lions Ford Field: FieldTurf Classic HD
- Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field: Desso GrassMaster
- Houston Texans NRG Stadium: Hellas Matrix Turf
- Indianapolis Colts Lucas Oil Stadium: Shaw Sports Momentum Pro
- Jacksonville Jaguars TIAA Bank Field: Bermuda grass
- Kansas City Chiefs GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Las Vegas Raiders Allegiant Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Los Angeles Chargers SoFi Stadium: Hellas Matrix Turf
- Los Angeles Rams SoFi Stadium: Hellas Matrix Turf
- Miami Dolphins Hard Rock Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Minnesota Vikings U.S. Bank Stadium: UBU Speed Series S5-M (turf)
- New England Patriots Gillette Stadium: FieldTurf CORE
- New Orleans Saints Caesar's Superdome: FieldTurf Revolution 360
- New York Giants MetLife Stadium: UBU Sports Speed Series S5-M
- New York Jets MetLife Stadium: UBU Sports Speed Series S5-M
- Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field: Desso GrassMaster
- Pittsburgh Steelers Acrisure Stadium: Kentucky bluegrass
- San Francisco 49ers Levi's Stadium: Bermuda grass and Perennial Ryegrass mixture
- Seattle Seahawks Lumen Field: FieldTurf Revolution 360
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Tennessee Titans Nissan Stadium: Bermuda grass
- Washington Commanders FedExField: Bermuda grass
There is no set rule for real grass versus turf, so it is up to each stadium to decide.