Artificial Turf: a Dangerous Playing Surface

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Artificial Turf: A Dangerous Playing Surface

Some of the changes that have occurred in professional football were necessary for the game. Pads, helmets and other protective equipment helped the players safety. Other developments though, especially artificial turf, have proven themselves detrimental to the game and its participants. Just as changes were made earlier, they must be made again. Stadiums need to convert back to grass playing fields for the safety of football players, the satisfaction of the fans, and most importantly to improve the sport overall.

What Is Artificial Turf?

Like Kleenex or Xerox, AstroTurf has become the popular moniker for all artificial playing surfaces impersonating natural grass in the modern sports world. Born in the 1960's out of a military project to improve the physical fitness of urban teenagers, AstroTurf,along with its foreign and domestic impostors that were eventually squeezed out of the industry, was developed as a cheaper, more durable, low maintenance alternative to grass as a playing surface for football, baseball, and soccer. The original sales pitch rang true with all the sincerity of a beer commercial: All the fun of the regular grass, with only a third of the maintenance. Monsanto, AstroTurf's original manufacturer, had an ace in hole as well; grass doesn't grow very well in domes. Seduced by visions of conquering Mother Nature and paying a couple kids minimum wage to run a vacuum cleaner over the field between games, stadium executives across the nation bought into the AstroTurf movement. However, as the powers that be soon discovered f or themselves, AstroTurf proved to be neither cheaper nor lower maintenance than grass, and it had a nasty little side effect. Players, coaches, and trainers began to notice a substantial increase in the frequency of injuries on the improved traction and reduced cushion of AstroTurf. Doctors even identified and named a few new ones, common only to the artificial surface.

Turf Injuries

The relative hardness of AstroTurf has spawned an unpleasant little chronic injury called turf toe. It occurs when the big toe is crushed into an artificial surface, ramming the toe back up into the foot and ripping up any ligaments and tissue it might encounter along the way. A little less serious but somewhat more messy ailment turf burn, which like turf toe, simply would not exist without Astroturf. Turf burn occurs just about anytime exposed skin comes in contact with the artificial surface, which in a contact sport like football, is about every thirty seconds. Because AstroTurf has about the same texture as a toothbrush and it can sizzle at about 30 degrees higher than the air temperature on a hot day, it rips off flesh with the efficiency of sandpaper. And aside from the nagging pain and constant threat of infections, turf burn offers the added bonus of making you stick to your sheets every night as you sleep. These, however, are but minor ailments. The notion that an increase in major injuries, particularly to the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee is a direct result of AstroTurf has been a more hotly debated issue. In 1974, the Stanford Research Institute International (SRI) completed a six year study commissioned by the National Football League on the health effects of artificial turf. SRI reported that "in 17 out of 17 categories, natural grass was safer to play on than artificial surfaces." Joe Grippo, the director of SRI, later admitted that "synthetic surfaces could not be justified, not on an injury prevention basis, not on a relative cost basis." Those facts, however, did not stop the NFL Players Association from conducting its own injury studies. The NFLPA concluded for the 1984 season that "the average turf injury took longer to heal, that the number of players increased by a third and that the number of missed games doubled when the injuries occurred on turf." More recently, an ESPN poll conducted in September 1995...
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