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Artificial Turf A Dangerous Playing Surface Essay

Artificial Turf: A Dangerous Playing Surface Essay, Research Paper Artificial Turf: A Dangerous Playing Surface Some of the changes that have occurred in professional football were

Artificial Turf: A Dangerous Playing Surface Essay, Research Paper

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 likewise found that 98 percent of NFL players

believe playing on AstroTurf will shorten their careers. The NFLPA’s reasoning

for the increase in injuries echoed what common sense and trainers across the

League had been saying for years. AstroTurf, because of its augmented traction,

split seems, and permanent high and low spots (known as “birdbaths”), sometimes

causes a player’s feet to stick to the ground. “The resulting torque places

enormous pressure on joints like the knee and the ankle, resulting in a greater

number of torn tendons and ligaments.”

Football Players’ Preferences

The results of a January 1997 study by the NFL Players Association showed that

nine out of 10 NFL players believe playing on artificial turf is more likely

than grass to cause the kind of serious injuries that shorten careers. The

written survey was conducted by NFLPA staff members at team meetings during

the1996 NFL season, as a follow-up to a similar survey conducted during the 1994

NFL season. The 1996 survey revealed that 86.7% of the 1034 players who answered

preferred to play on natural grass (up from 85.1% in 1994), while only 6.3%

preferred artificial turf (down from 7% in 1994) and 7% had no preference (8% in

1994). Almost three-quarters (74%) of NFL players in this survey also indicated

that playing on a natural grass surface was either very important or somewhat

important in selecting the teams they would consider signing with as free agents

(up from 70% in 1994). NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw stated: “This survey

underscores the overwhelming and increasing preference of NFL players for top-

quality natural grass playing surfaces. Given the need of every NFL club to

recruit free agents to remain competitive, we expect that many NFL clubs will

recognize the obvious advantage they will gain by converting to or upgrading to

a first-class natural grass playing field.” When asked to rate the five best

playing fields the players chose the following:

Ranking Stadium

Field Surface

1 Tampa Stadium

Natural Grass

2 Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami

Natural Grass

3 Jacksonville Stadium

Natural Grass

4 Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona

Natural Grass

5 Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City

Natural Grass

Players rated the worst stadiums as follows:

Ranking Stadium

Field Surface

1 Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia

Artificial Turf

2 Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati

Artificial Turf

3 The Astrodome in Houston

Artificial Turf

4 Three Rivers Stadiumin Pittsburgh

Artificial Turf

5 Giants Stadium in New Jersey

Artificial Turf

Other results of the survey:

93.4% of NFL players believe that artificial turf is more likely than grass to

contribute to injury.

90.9% believe artificial turf is more likely to shorten their careers.

83.9% believe artificial turf is more likely to worsen their quality of life

after football.

94.8% believe artificial turf causes more soreness.

58.9% believe artificial turf causes more fatigue.

52.5% identified an artificial turf injury they suffered that they believe would

not have happened on grass.

Medical Evidence Linking Turf and Injury

Examining 25 scientific journals, Dr. Willibald Nagler, the Anne and Jerome

Fisher Physiatrist in Chief at the Cornell Medical Center in New York City, and

his colleagues found that foot and knee injuries on synthetic turf in some

cases occur about 50 percent more than on grass. And when injuries do occur,

they often are more serious and difficult to heal than those that occur on grass.

Nagler explained that synthetic turf does not allow the foot to slide when it

hits the ground, and ligaments in the feet and knees rupture — injuries that

can be “debilitating and painful for an athlete, and difficult to heal and to

treat.” Ligaments whose sole function is to keep the joint in place are not

elastic, Nagler emphasized, and they rupture either partially or completely. “It

takes quite a long time to heal if they are even partially ruptured,” said

Nagler, a specialist in rehabilitation medicine. “The ligament actually comes

apart, and it loses its functional value. It doesn’t hold the joint together

anymore.” Treatment is to immobilize the joint in a plaster cast or surgically

suture the ligament back together. That is difficult because the surgeon has to

take ligament from someplace else, and the procedure is not always successful.

Football on grass results in fewer ligamentous injuries, Nagler said, and those

that do occur are not as severe, according to the published scientific articles.

Furthermore, synthetic turf may exacerbate existing injuries, or make healing

take longer, the studies show. Nagler and Dr. Debra Braverman of the Department

of Rehabilitation Medicine examined more than two dozen scientific journals to

compare ligamentous football injuries. Among them: Journal of Sports Medicine,

Clinical Orthopedics, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and

others. He was motivated, he said, “because there is a lot of anecdotal

evidence, but no one’s really searched the literature to see if it’s true.

There is definitely an increase in ligamentous injuries on artificial turf.”

Financial Downfalls of Astroturf Fields

AstroTurf has generally failed to prove itself any less expesive than grass.

The Monsanto company’s claim, just before it sold its AstroTurf division to

Balsam, was that grass would cost $40,000 annually to keep in shape compared to

only $4,000 for AstroTurf. However as noted by Alex Hill of Colorado University,

natural grass is still cheaper to install, and in a football exclusive stadium

the total cost over a ten year period is about even for turf and grass at just

over a million dollars. Moreover, those statistics don’t even account for the

single greatest fear of many: the possibility that a star with a guaranteed

multimillion dollar contract will trip on a seam in the turf, rip apart his knee,

and spend the rest of his career in rehab programs. It is a cost that is

measured in missing Super Bowl rings as easily as it is in dollars and cents,

not in groundskeeping costs.

The Solution

An ESPNET poll revealed that of 4650 fans surveyed 97 percent preferred watching

games played on natural grass. Players in the NFL prefer natural grass, and

their protection is most important. They are after all your investment in

financial and athletic success as are the fans. Having grass fields installed

in your stadium will also attract free agents as well. Astroturf’s time is up,

it’s time for a switch back to grass. The investment in a natural grass playing

surface will ease the minds of players, fans and coaches alike and let them

concentrate on the more important aspects of football

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