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Real Sports makes case for grass over turf in football

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.

More and more NFL players want to play and practice football only on grass. The NFL seems to be more and more determined to not make a universal change.

The new episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, which debuted last night, explored the grass vs. turf question, both from the perspective of the NFL and the perspective of high-school football.

The problem is that, with thousands of turf fields, young players are suffering injuries at a potentially higher rate on turf than on grass.

“Absolutely,” Dr. Timothy Kremchek told Andrea Kremer of Real Sports. Kremcheck has served as the Cincinnati Reds’ team physician since 1996, and he also provides medical services at high-school football games. “I see an epidemic of injuries of young, strong, healthy kids that are getting hurt that are risking not only their careers, but their limbs.”

The problem is that grass is softer, and cleats don’t get stuck in them.

“You put your foot in grass and grass gives,” Kremchek said. On turf, that’s not the case.

“What happens is the foot hits the ground, and when the body is gonna change direction, the foot stays planted, and it gets stuck,” Kremchek said. “And as the body starts to turn, all the stresses go from the foot, the ankle, and then up to the knee. And as the knee turns, boom.”

The other problem is that turf fields at high schools are overused and, in plenty of cases, too old. The field gets harder over time, making it more likely that feet will get stuck in the fake grass.

The turf contributes both to leg injuries when feet are stuck, and to head injuries when helmets are thrown onto the turf.

Per Kremer, the NFL downplays the situation. Although injuries rates have been significantly higher on turf than grass in seven of the past eight years, the NFL disputes that universal conversion to grass will solve the problem. The league says that some grass fields actually shower higher rates of injury than some turf fields.

Because turf is used widely by the NFL, lower-level football programs embrace it. At a time when the NFL wants safety measures to trickle down to lower levels of the sport, it’s unfortunate (to say the least) that unsafe playing surfaces are embraced by high-school programs, since those surfaces are deemed acceptable by the NFL -- a supposed bastion of player health and safety.