On Sunday, the Chicago Bears endured a blowout loss to the New York Jets. However, the injuries sustained by the team are arguably worse than the loss to the now 7-4 Jets. Two starters, safety Eddie Jackson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney, went down with lower body injuries during the second and third quarter, respectively. Mooney’s injury — which will likely require ankle surgery, thus ending his season — was a regular football injury; Jets safety Jordan Whitehead fell on the receiver’s ankle during a running play. On the other hand, the potentially season-ending foot injury Eddie Jackson suffered was non-contact and thus entirely avoidable. MetLife Stadium, home to the previously mentioned Jets and the New York Giants, has notoriously awful field conditions. Therefore, Eddie Jackson’s recent injury rehashes the NFL’s years-old turf problem.
MetLife Stadium has been at the epicenter of the NFL’s turf debate for years. In 2020, 49ers star edge rusher Nick Bosa tore his ACL while playing the Jets in Week 2. Then-Giants safety Jabrill Peppers suffered a similar injury early last year. This season alone, multiple players have suffered season-ending injuries at the $1.6 billion arena. Baltimore Ravens cornerback Kyle Fuller, who played for the Bears from 2014 to 2020, tore his ACL after getting his cleat stuck in the stadium’s turf. Two weeks later, Giants receiver Sterling Shepard suffered an ACL tear while jogging late in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. This multitude of injuries demonstrates just how bad MetLife’s turf has been for players. But the problem doesn’t end in New York.
Slit film turf, used at six NFL stadiums (including at MetLife), is the primary culprit of turf-related injuries. The NFLPA has called for an immediate ban of the substance, citing higher in-game injury rates than other surface types. In particular, foot, ankle, and non-contact injuries occurred at higher rates on slit film — all evidence of a treacherous playing surface. While New York plans to move away from the substance in 2023, five NFL teams — the Saints, Colts, Bengals, Vikings, and Lions — will continue to use the dangerous material. With enough pushback from the NFLPA, the substance may eventually be banned.
Sixteen teams currently use some form of turf for their stadium. From the owners’ perspective, it is simple math: turf is cheaper than grass. Additionally, using turf allows stadiums to host events during the offseason, generating more revenue. But the NFLPA’s data has shown that grass is significantly safer for players than turf. And while saving money on field upkeep is beneficial to owners, protecting the multi-million dollar investments playing on that field should probably be a higher priority. The Cardinals and Raiders, who play in indoor stadiums, have even found a way to use grass by removing it from the stadium and letting it grow outdoors during the week. Thus, there is no excuse for teams to stick with turf.
However, merely switching to grass will not be enough. Bears fans know just how dangerous a poorly-maintained grass stadium can be. NFL teams that make the right choice and switch to grass need to ensure that it is properly maintained. While it may cost teams a few extra dollars, it could save players’ careers across the league.
In a league that generates over $17 billion in revenue annually, teams need to stop cutting costs and start looking out for the players.