The Turf Debate in the NFL: Implications for Injuries and Player Safety

The Turf Debate in the NFL: Implications for Injuries and Player Safety


The recent and unprecedented injury of Aaron Rodgers, suffering a total Achilles rupture during his first night with the New York Jets, has ignited a fiery debate about the impact of artificial turf in the NFL. This incident, combined with mounting concerns among players, raises essential questions regarding bio-mechanical markers, cleat design, and the safety of artificial turf compared to natural grass.

The Turf vs. Grass Debate

In recent years, NFL players and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have been vocal in their call for the league to replace all artificial turf fields with natural grass. They argue that turf fields lead to higher injury rates, particularly in the lower extremities—ankles, feet, and legs—due to the surface's hardness compared to natural grass.

Notable NFL players, such as San Francisco 49ers defensive back Nick Bosa and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., have joined this call to ban artificial turf and a public post following Rodgers' injury from David Bakhtiari, an O-line player from Greenbay Packers voicing frustration:

The Significance of Cleat Design

To comprehend the impact of artificial turf on injuries, we must consider cleat design. Cleats, often a fashion statement for NFL players, play a pivotal role in an athlete's performance and safety. Yet, are players fully aware of how cleat design interacts with different playing surfaces? Cleats designed for natural grass may not provide the same level of grip and stability on artificial turf. This mismatch between cleat and surface can alter the bio-mechanics of an athlete in play and heighten the risk of injuries before any other variables, such as being tackled.

MetLife Stadium's Unique Turf

What sets Aaron Rodgers' situation apart is that MetLife Stadium, where the injury occurred, is the sole NFL venue using a brand-new synthetic dual-polymer fiber turf for the season. This innovative turf boasts a single-blade "grass" design, known for its smoother surface. However, this very attribute raises concerns about potential slipperiness when wet, as was the case on the night of Rodgers' injury following a severe pregame rainfall.


Certainly, injuries can occur on both natural grass and artificial turf, but player safety remains a paramount concern in the NFL, extending beyond high-profile cases like Aaron Rodgers. It affects athletes at all levels, and given the NFL's prominence, it serves as a benchmark for safety implementation and options.

It's worth noting that this particular injury involving Aaron Rodgers had several contributing factors, including the tackle. However, it's essential to consider that throughout his entire career at Lambeau Field, which features natural grass, Rodgers had never sustained a potentially career-ending injury. This raises questions about the training surface used by the Jets, which, as confirmed, is artificial turf. This might have compounded the injury risk, following his trade.

While we await potential actions and comments from the NFL regarding playing surface safety, it's evident that the turf-versus-grass debate and the influence of cleat design remain ongoing concerns.

Athletes persist in advocating for safer conditions and greater consistency, while advancements in recovery and rehabilitation solutions strive to facilitate player pain and injury recovery.

(Cover image: Getty Images)

Despite surface variations within one league, athletes and athlete care staff should prioritize both style and functionality when choosing cleats, particularly when transitioning between different field types.

This incident underscores the need for comprehensive discussions among team stakeholders, from management to medical staff and equipment experts, to prioritize player safety in the sport. While these conversations may come too late for Aaron Rodgers, they will undoubtedly benefit future players entering the league.

Back to blog