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Research shows “statistically significant higher risk” of lower extremity injuries on slit-film turf

Maria Taylor, Jason Garrett, Tony Dungy and Mike Florio dive into an action-packed Week 10 around the NFL, where the Vikings capitalized on the Bills’ late errors, the Packers shocked the Cowboys and more.

The NFL has stirred up a hornet’s nest regarding the question of field safety.

It started last week, with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones trying to argue that artificial turf fields are every bit as safe as grass fields. The NFL, during a media conference call scheduled primarily to talk about the looming game in Germany, cited specific statistics that tend Jones’s position. (Note: There’s almost always a specific statistic that will tend to support any position.)

On Saturday, the NFL Players Association fired back. NFLPA president JC Tretter posted a column with a series of action items, including a plea to remove all “slit-film” turf fields.

Many had never before heard that term. Seven of the league’s 32 teams (the Giants, Jets, Lions, Vikings, Saints, Colts, and Bengals) use slit-film turf. Slit-film also is used at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

“The injuries on slit film are completely avoidable — both the NFL and NFLPA experts agree on the data — and yet the NFL will not protect players from a subpar surface,” Tretter wrote.

Tretter’s column was followed by a social-media campaign from numerous players, who spoke out about the issue of field safety.

The NFL fired back on Saturday afternoon, with NFL executive V.P. of communications, public affairs, and safety Jeff Miller claiming slit-film surfaces “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.” Miller added that “the league and NFLPA’s joint experts did not recommend any changes to surfaces at the meeting but agreed more study is needed.”

The NFLPA, which has yet to formally respond to Miller, would surely take issue with his statement. PFT has obtained a slide prepared recently by Biocore, an outside firm that provides engineering analysis for both the league and the union.

In the slide, Biocore explains that “slit-film has a statistically significant higher risk of LEX [lower extremity] injury than the League average,” explaining that independent analyses from Biocore and IQVIA agree on that point. The slide also says that “models suggest there are 2-3 more non-contact lower extremity injuries per season per stadium on slit film surfaces than other types of synthetic turf fields.”

Finally, the slide asserts that, when teams are considering new and replacement fields, “existing natural and synthetic surfaces in use in the League offer lower injury rate alternatives to slit-film.”

This is a conclusion from a company hired by the league and the union. And it’s not 2-3 injuries per year; it’s 2-3 injuries per stadium per year.

The problem with slit-film turf comes from the construction of the various fake blades of grass. Instead of a single blade of fake grass (monofilament), slit-film has openings in the pieces, creating a potential risk of cleats catching in the material.

And so, even if it’s impractical to retrofit domed stadium with grass, the six slit-film turf surfaces (the Giants and Jets share one of them) in the U.S. and the slit-film turf in London should be replaced ASAP with monofilament fields, in the opinion of the union.

Other than cost, what’s the argument against it? Then again, from the perspective of those who pay the bills, cost may be the only argument that is needed.

Ultimately, football is business. It’s a business premised on maximizing profit. And it’s no coincidence that the field regarded as the best and most pristine, despite its location, is maintained by the one team that doesn’t have an owner who eyeballs the net revenues for buying the next generation of superyacht.