League of Fans

Founded by Ralph Nader, League of Fans is a sports reform project working to improve sports by increasing awareness of the sports industry's relationship to society, exposing irresponsible business practices, ensuring accountability to fans, and encouraging the industry to contribute to societal well-being.

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Artificial turf is taking a heavy toll

In the Public Interest
By Ralph Nader

Injuries abounded once again this year in the National Football League and one of the causes is the Artificial turf that covers the stadium floors used by 15 out of 28 NFL teams. Yet the owners, who make megamillions and pay millions to their players, watch indifferently from their luxury boxes as one athlete after another is lost for the season or ended his career.

Some of the game's greatest stars, such as Gayle Sayers, Billy Sims, Jack Lambert, attribute to the hard unyielding fake turf career-ending injuries.

More recently, Wendell Davis of the Chicago Bears, playing at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia against the Eagles, suffered ripped patella tendons in both knees on a play where his feet caught in the turf and his legs buckled. Mike Sherrard, the great wide receiver for the New York Giants, was completing a 50-yard run off a pass reception by making a cut with his left foot. His foot stuck to the Giants Stadium artificial turf and he fell to the surface with a fractured and dislocated hip. No one had touched him on the play.

Eagles players compare playing on this turf to playing on a cement floor covered by a bed sheet. The majority of season-ending injuries in 1991 occurred on artificial surfaces. A survey of players a few years ago by the Players Association found that 83 percent of the athletes preferred playing on real grass which has a "give" to it. The owners (the National Football League) have no official position on the controversy.

However, the trend is swinging toward grass. The Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots have switched to grass, while the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs are seriously considering making the move to natural surface.

"That (stuff) shouldn't be anywhere," says running back Marcus Allen, referring to artificial turf. "It's like a faulty car. Sooner or later, it gets you." He should know. He suffered a blown-out knee while trying to make a cut at the Astrodome over two years ago with no player tackling him.

Well, it turns out that Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner of the National Football League, is worried too -- finally. He has assured Gene Upshaw, executive director of the Player's Association, that some action will be taken. New kinds of grass are being developed that can be used in domed stadiums.

My guess is that unless the fans start protesting over losing players on their favorite teams because of the ignorant corporate insistence on keeping artificial turf, decisions to use real grass may be postponed indefinitely. A fans revolt will focus attention on other sports -- professional and amateur -- allowing such turf to harm their players -- right down to some high school football fields.

Interested readers may wish to express their opinion by writing to Paul Tagliabue, National Football League, 410 Park Avenue, New York, NY, 10022.