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NFL answers NFLPA, insisting injury rates are same on synthetic surfaces vs. grass

Ahead of the NFL's first-ever game in Germany featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Peter King reports live from Munich on the growth of the NFL in a historic city.

The NFL released a statement Saturday after an NFL Players Association PR campaign against artificial turf surfaces, specifically the “slit-film surfaces” that seven teams play their home games on.

“As the NFLPA knows from the meeting of our Joint Field Surface Safety & Performance Committee earlier this month, there was no difference between the number of injuries on synthetic surfaces versus grass,” Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said in a statement. “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.”

The NFL and NFLPA contract a third-party company called IQVIA to compile and analyze data on every injury during every season. Their joint Surfaces Committee uses the data to compare injuries in each of the league’s 30 stadiums.

The committee presented findings to owners during last month’s meeting in New York.

It focused on non-contact injuries, which as recently as 2019, were notably higher on artificial turf fields. The difference between the surfaces began narrowing in 2020, and last season, the numbers were nearly identical.

The incident rate for artificial turf in 2021 was.042 per 100 and .041 per 100 for grass surfaces.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose team plays on turf, dismissed players’ concerns, citing the committee’s findings.

The NFLPA 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, on the NFLPA’s website, requested: (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.

The Giants, Jets, Lions, Vikings, Saints, Colts and Bengals play on slit-film turf. The NFLPA claims those 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.

NFL players made a united, organized effort to win the PR campaign Saturday, hoping to force the league to play all its games entirely on grass.

“We know the data,” Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz tweeted. “Our union and the league agree that we should eliminate slit-film turf. The NFL isn’t willing to mandate this change, so we as players are going to keep talking about this issue until it changes.”