Turf War: NFLPA president JC Tretter to push NFL to convert FieldTurf surfaces to grass

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Navigating COVID-19 isn’t the only thing on the mind of NFLPA president and Browns center JC Tretter these days.

Tretter plans to push the NFL to eliminate the use of FieldTurf and convert surfaces in all stadiums to grass to reduce the risk of injuries to players.

“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,” Tretter said during a Zoom video conference with reporters Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, Tretter posted his monthly op-ed on the NFLPA’s website which focused on the topic of eliminating the synthetic fields in order to protect players.

In the article, Tretter cited injury data collected from 2012-2018 which said that players have a 28% higher rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf as compared to grass. The data indicated that those rates are even higher for non-contact knee injuries (32%) and non-contact foot and ankle injuries (69%) on turf as compared to grass.

“The data stands out,” Tretter said. “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.

“Like I said in the article, 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.”

The rash of injuries incurred by the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium two weeks ago was not the only reason Tretter chose this month’s newsletter to address field surfaces.

This has been something that has been on his mind for a while.

“You kind of have two issues,” Tretter said. “One, the pounding of just being on a hard surface on turf and just that constant pounding, and the second, we put so much force and so much torque into the ground. When you’re doing that eventually something has to give in certain situations. Usually the grass is going to give and it’s going to release your ankle, release your knee from being in that compromised situation. When you’re on turf, the turf is not going to give, it’s not going to rip away. It’s going to be your joint that has to give and that’s why you see a higher injury rate.”

Tretter, who underwent a knee scope in August and has played through a severe high ankle sprain in recent years, spoke from personal experience about the aches and pains he feels after practicing or playing on the artificial surfaces, the effects of which don’t hit him until the next day.

“It’s clear that it’s one of the main causes of these increased injuries and I think we need to start doing something about that,” Tretter said.

Tretter believes the league needs better testing of artificial surfaces which currently test more for hardness than performance.

The Browns play on natural grass at FirstEnergy Stadium and practice on it at their training facility in Berea, Ohio, except for when practice moves to the Casey Coleman Fieldhouse, which has about 70 yards of FieldTurf to work on, during inclement weather.

The week the Browns travel to Arlington, Texas home of AT&T Stadium, another FieldTurf venue, where they'll face the Cowboys.

Currently the NFL has 13 stadiums that use artificial surfaces, including the new $5 billion home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers – SoFi Stadium. The Las Vegas Raiders new indoor stadium features grass as does Arizona’s but both of those facilities incorporated a specialized tray that is able to slide outdoors when games aren't being played.

Tretter believes every stadium should have grass to play on, especially outdoor facilities. MetLife Stadium, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, Century Link Field in Seattle, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro and Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati are outdoor venues and they all have artificial surfaces.

“Player safety will always be a priority with the union,” Tretter said.