NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL Players Association wants the league to switch all its fields to natural grass, calling it “the easiest decision the NFL can make.”
Executive director Lloyd Howell issued a statement Wednesday morning saying NFL players “overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that grass is simply safer than artificial turf.” Howell said the issue “has been near the top of the players’ list during my team visits and one I have raised with the NFL.”
The players’ union called for the change less than 48 hours after a season-ending injury to four-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers tore his left Achilles tendon in his debut with the New York Jets on Monday night.
Howell said in his statement they know there is an investment to making such a change. But he said there’s a bigger cost to the NFL if the league keeps losing its best players to “unnecessary injuries.” He noted the NFL flips surfaces to grass for World Cup or soccer exhibitions.
“But artificial surfaces are acceptable for our own players,” Howell said. “This is worth the investment and it simply needs to change now.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday on ESPN’s “First Take” that the playing surface is a “complex issue,” and part of the collective bargaining agreement covered the use of science to measure injuries. The league and the union use the same data to gauge injuries.
Goodell noted Rodgers had one of two Achilles tendon injuries in the NFL’s first week, with the other on grass.
“That is where we make decisions, on the basis of science, not because I see an injury that I don’t like,” Goodell said.
“Ultimately, I want our experts to come back and give it to us and that is why we have engaged with this process and actually accelerated the process with the NFLPA to be able to get that kind of data so we can make those kinds of decisions.”
The union has asked for all grass fields for years.
The NFLPA in April pointed to studies from 2012-22 that it says show a significant increase in non-contact injuries on artificial surfaces vs. grass fields. The NFL has defended the use of artificial turf, pointing to 2021 when the numbers for injuries on both surfaces were close.
Rodgers argued for grass all over the league last November while with the Green Bay Packers. He said some artificial surfaces are softer, creating more wobble when the foot hits the ground.
“It’s that wobble that can cause some of these non-contact knee injuries that we’ve seen,” Rodgers said at the time. “I’m not sure if that’s the standard that’s set for that type of surface or it’s the installation of that surface, but a lot of that could be just done away with if we had grass in every stadium.”
Agent Drew Rosenhaus echoed the NFLPA’s demand on social media Wednesday, sharing the union’s post.
“It’s a no brainer,” Rosenhaus wrote. “If the Owners care about their players & want to win, then they will make the switch! I encourage the leaders at the NFL to push for this change. It’s for the good of the players & the game itself.”
A new artificial surface was installed this year at MetLife Stadium. Jets coach Robert Saleh said Tuesday that he didn’t see the surface as being an issue in Rodgers’ injury.
The 39-year-old quarterback got hurt when he was taken down by Bills defender Leonard Floyd.
“If it was a non-contact injury, then I think that would be something to discuss, obviously,” Saleh said. “But that was kind of forceable, I think that was trauma induced. I do know the players prefer grass and there is a lot invested in those young men.”
Bills pass rusher Von Miller blames turf for the ACL injury that has him on the physically unable to perform list to start this season. He joined a campaign to get grass in all NFL stadiums.
Two-time NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes plays on grass in Kansas City and said it’s pretty simple.
“The numbers say that grass is healthier for the players, and I want to play on the surface that keeps me healthy,” Mahomes said.
The Tennessee Titans will debut the NFL’s newest artificial surface Sunday in their home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers after trying, and struggling, to grow grass in Nashville for 24 seasons. The Titans regularly replaced sod in the middle of the field, especially late in seasons.
Their fake turf features coconut husks and cork instead of rubber pellets. The Titans cited NFL data that put Nissan Stadium among the league leaders for games with players having lower-body injuries.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill and two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard both made clear they prefer grass. The Titans played one preseason game on the new surface, and Tennessee beat Virginia on Sept. 2 playing on the new turf.
Mike Vrabel, the Titans’ coach who played 14 NFL seasons in stadiums that featured original artificial turf, said the new field was definitely different. He said Wednesday the technology has really improved and he likes what Tennessee is using.
“I understand that we need to do everything that we can to keep our players safe and understand that sometimes injuries are unavoidable based on, whatever you’re doing and playing professional sports,” Vrabel said.
In the college game at Nissan Stadium, Virginia nose tackle Olasunkonmi Agunloye was carted off at the end of the first quarter after slipping as he celebrated on his way to the sideline.
Volunteers wide receiver Bru McCoy said the surface at Nissan Stadium was bouncy and required some adjustment. But he said he felt fast.
“At times, it felt like it had give,” McCoy said. “At times, it felt like you could really put your foot in the ground. No issues with it.”
AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dennis Waszak and AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee, Dave Skretta, Steve Reed, Brett Martel, John Wawrow and Joe Reedy contributed.