NFL data shows recent injury rates are the same on grass and artificial turf

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The NFL’s recent rate of non-contact knee, ankle and foot injuries is about the same on natural and artificial playing surfaces, according to internal data reviewed by ESPN on Tuesday.

The numbers contradict anecdotal observations this season from a wide range of players, agents and coaches who have called on the league to convert all surfaces to grass in response to a series of high-profile injuries on artificial turf. But the NFL has no plans to do so, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan Tuesday morning, citing current data.

“Not at all,” said Jones, whose team plays in one of the NFL’s 16 stadiums with an artificial playing surface. “And it’s not because we have the surface we have. Our league stats don’t see any issues with the type of surface we have as opposed to natural grass. We don’t see any issues. No fact confirm it.”

The NFL and NFLPA use a third-party company known as IQVIA to compile and analyze data on every injury suffered during each season. Their Joint Surfaces Committee uses the data to compare injuries at each of the 30 stadiums the league plays in, paying particular attention to injuries that occur without contact and could potentially be attributed to the surface itself.

These injuries are classified as non-contact and affect the lower extremities: knees, ankles and feet. ESPN got a chart that charted those injuries over the past four seasons.

As recently as 2019, the rate of such injuries was significantly higher on artificial turf pitches than on grass. But the difference between the two started to narrow in 2020, and in 2021 the numbers were almost the same. Artificial surfaces had an incident rate of 0.042 per 100 in 2021, while the incident rate for natural surfaces was 0.041 per 100.

That ratio “has happened again” in the 2022 preseason, according to Jeff Miller, executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy for the NFL. Full data for 2022 will be compiled at the end of the season.

“The bottom line from all of this data is that the discussion between synthetic surfaces and natural grass surfaces isn’t really the argument,” Miller said. “What we’re trying to do is reduce injury to both. Generally speaking, comparing synthetic to natural doesn’t really give us the information we need to try to reduce those injury rates.”

It’s not entirely clear why the rate difference narrowed, although part of the reason is that on-turf injuries increased from 2018 to 2021. Miller noted that there is ” more dynamism” in the artificial turf market, and that stadiums order replacements on average every two or three years. He also said the NFL and NFLPA are working with field managers to optimize turf maintenance.

The NFL/NFLPA Surface Committee presented its findings to the owners at last month’s meeting in New York, but details had not previously been made public. Meanwhile, players and coaches have spoken about injuries on the artificial turf.

More recently, after the Green Bay Packers lost passing thrower Rashan Gary to a non-contact ACL injury at Ford Field in Detroit, Packers linebacker DeVondre Campbell tweeted: “I think he’s time you take some of the money you make on us and invest in grass fields for every team in the league. Grass is literally like concrete, it has nothing to lose when you plant it.

Previously, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp said the difference between the two surfaces was “not even close.”

After Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf and Los Angeles Chargers cornerback JC Jackson both left a game at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles with non-contact knee injuries, Kupp added: “I know that “There are things going on in the league right now, there are issues. Hands down, we should be playing on grass. Hands down, we should be on grass. And that’s all i’m going to say.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the issue is “something we definitely need to seriously look at again this offseason.”

“It’s been discussed before,” Carroll said. “We have to do what’s right, and we have to do what’s safest for the players, and we have to make those choices. I would bang the drum for that.”

ESPN’s Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.

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