After a spate of injuries at Sofi Stadium on Sunday, Seattle Seahawks players and head coach Pete Carroll are renewing calls for natural turf at all NFL stadiums.
The Seahawks lost receiver DK Metcalf to a knee injury against the Los Angeles Chargers when he planted his foot on a catch. He avoided ligament damage, but remains sidelined at practice with his timeline to return unclear.
J.C. Jackson wasn't so fortunate. The Chargers cornerback's season is over with a patellar tendon tear likewise sustained on a non-contact injury. Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams saw his ankle rolled on a tackle while his cleats were embedded in Sofi Stadium's artificial turf. He's expected to miss several weeks with a high-ankle sprain.
This all took place on the field where Odell Beckham Jr. injured his knee in the Super Bowl. He remains sidelined seven weeks into the NFL season after offseason ACL surgery. Carroll wants to see a change. He told reporters on Wednesday that he would "pound the drum" to re-examine the use of artificial turf in the offseason.
"I think we definitely need to look at this really seriously in the offseason again," Carroll said, per ESPN. "It's been a discussion before. We've got to do what's right, and we've got to do what's safest for the players, and we've got to make those choices. I would pound on the drum for that."
Carroll was joined in the call to action by Seahawks players. Seahawks safety Ryan Neal blamed "the freakin' surface" for all three injuries on Sunday.
“You look at it, guys were just getting hurt left and right,” Neal said, per The Tacoma News-Tribune. “J.C. Jackson had a freakin’ crazy injury. Mike Williams. DK.
“You hate seeing stuff like that, anytime. It’s not even off people hitting somebody. It’s the freakin’ surface.”
Fellow Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs called the SoFi surface "slick." He explicitly called for a league-wide ban of artificial turf while referencing a slew of injuries at MetLife Stadium in 2020.
“I’m not a big fan of the Rams-slash-Chargers’ field turf," Diggs told the News-Tribune. "I think it’s slick. “You see all these injuries — I think it was the Giants’ stadium, Giants’ and Jets’ stadium a few years ago, where all those teams, the 49ers went out there and had guys with ACLs and all types of stuff.
“So you see that and you just kind of wonder: Why can’t we have natural grass everywhere?”
The NFLPA called for a review of the MetLife Field turf in 2020. An inspection of the turf determined that the surface met league standards.
Yesterday, reps from the NFL, NFLPA, MetLife Stadium, #Giants & #Jets, Field Turf & independent field inspector conducted another review of the field surface at MetLife Stadium. The group again verified the field meets all applicable standards & protocols for NFL field surfaces.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 24, 2020
Athletes calling for an end to artificial turf is nothing new. The debate dates back to the 1966 debut of AstroTurf at Houston's Astrodome. The surface drew criticism from players like Gayle Sayers and Drew Pearson and was blamed for ending players' careers prematurely. But it survived until 2004, when the St. Louis Rams replaced the turf at Edwards Jones Stadium.
Artificial turf has advanced since AstroTurf and is still used in 14 stadiums across the NFL. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president overseeing player health and safety, told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg in September that the NFL's goal is to develop a turf that's safer than both natural grass and current iterations of artificial turf.
“By better understanding turf and better understanding grass, you can eventually, with a fair amount of innovation, design something that’s better than either one,” Miller said. “We will maintain that as a goal and continue to try to research surfaces with the thought that one day we can design something better.”
Players remain skeptical of the current iteration of artificial turf as they continue to experience and witness injuries. Until a proven alternative is viable, the calls for grass continue. In a 2020 letter, NFLPA JC Tretter didn't rule out that the technology would eventually exist, but demanded natural grass in every NFL stadium until and if it does.
"There is no guarantee that artificial turf manufacturers will be able to create a product that provides as safe of a surface as natural grass, so we should not sit around hoping that happens," Tretter wrote. "Until a product is developed that satisfies engineering specifications, we must take steps to protect players from unsafe field surfaces. In short, NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass."