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NFL: “No simple answers” to solve issue of playing surfaces

Mike Florio and Chris Simms analyze if anything will come from the NFLPA’s findings that injury rates were significantly higher on artificial turf than grass during the 2022 season.

The NFL Players Association has made its position clear. It wants grass playing surfaces.

Most recently, the NFLPA pointed to injury rates from 2012 through 2022 -- and it accused the league of clinging to 2021 data that showed no greater risk as an “outlier.”

The league has chimed in, via a statement issued in response to the union’s criticism that the league has engaged in a “P.R. campaign to convince everyone that the problem doesn’t actually exist.”

The comment came from Jeff Miller, the primary league-office executive for both health and safety and P.R. The good news is that he doesn’t say the problem doesn’t exist. The bad news is that he claims the problem is too complicated to easily solve.

“The NFL and the NFLPA have access to the same injury information, which is collected by independent experts and shared at the CBA-mandated Joint Field Surface Safety and Performance Committee meetings,” Miller said, via “The committee, including the NFLPA’s experts, believe that simply playing on natural grass is not the answer to this complex challenge. Some artificial turf surfaces have a lower injury rate than some grass fields -- and some grass fields have a lower injury rate than some artificial surfaces.

“Our goal is to decrease injuries on all surfaces. There are no simple answers, but we are committed to the substantial, ongoing work with the players and their expert advisors to make the game safer.”

The anecdotal evidence from anyone who has played the game remains overwhelming. Players prefer grass. The surface is softer. It’s more forgiving. Feet don’t get stuck, providing an anchor for excess forces to be applied to joints and ligaments and cartilage.

At the core, as usual, is money. It would be too expensive to replace turf fields with grass fields -- especially with grass fields that are properly maintained. And it would be far too expensive to come up with a way to put acceptable grass surfaces in domed stadiums.

Unless, of course, those venues want to host World Cup matches. Then, the cost is no impediment, since anything other than grass is a non-starter for FIFA.

While the NFL has come a long way from the days of thin green carpet over a layer of flimsy padding over cement, grass should be the norm. It should be the standard. It should be the thing every NFL game is played on.

But as long as those responsible for providing the stadiums will blur the lines regarding the relative safety of real grass over real dirt and phony blades of grass padded by potentially carcinogenic pellets with concrete still lurking at the bottom of the toxic recipe of plastic and rubber, the league will be able to say things like, “There are no simple answers.”

There is a simple answer. Play on grass. It might not be the cheap answer. But it’s the answer the men who play the game want the league to arrive at.

But for the associated expense, the league likely would.