NFL Players Association president JC Tretter is calling for NFL teams to change all field surfaces to natural grass to reduce the risk of injury to players.
Tretter, the starting center for the Cleveland Browns, wrote in a newsletter that players have a 28% higher rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf as compared to grass. Tretter, citing NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, added that those rates are even higher for noncontact knee injuries (32%) and noncontact foot and ankle injuries (69%) on turf as compared to grass.
"The data stands out," Tretter said Wednesday during a videoconference with media. "Those numbers are staggering, the difference in injury rate between turf and natural grass. It's possible to get grass in every location, and it's about pushing for that. We all should be working toward the safest style of play. We know the dangers of playing on turf. That's not good for anybody. It's not good for players. It's not good for the GMs and the head coaches. It's not good for the owners. It's not good for the fans. Increased injuries isn't good for anybody.
"Until we can find a way to get synthetic turf to respond and react like natural grass, it's too much of a danger to continue to play on and expect different results."
Currently, 13 NFL stadiums use artificial turf.
San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and his players had expressed concern about the turf at MetLife Stadium, where the Niners recently lost a number of players, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and defensive end Nick Bosa, to injuries. MetLife is the home of the Jets and Giants.
Tretter said a "committee of engineers" has been tasked with examining field surfaces. Tretter also advocated for a better regimen for surface testing, noting that the Clegg Impact Tester presently used by the league measures hardness of a surface, "but not for performance and safety."
He said teams shouldn't use climate or indoor stadiums as an excuse not to implement grass, given that several cold-weather teams, including the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, use grass, and the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders have natural grass despite playing indoors.
"Players safety will always be a priority for us and for the union," Tretter said. "... It's something from here on out we need to make a priority."