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The new CEO of the NFL Players Association has called on the league to change all of its stadium surfaces to natural turf in the wake of… Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury.
Rodgers suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the Jets’ fourth game of the season on Monday night, spoiling the star quarterback’s debut in New York and reigniting a league-wide debate over playing on surfaces in NFL stadiums.
MetLife Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, installed a new surface earlier this year called FieldTurf, which is softer and has a more forgiving feel than the stadium’s previous artificial turf.
But Rodgers’ injury sparked widespread anger on grass surfaces, and AFL chief executive Lloyd Howell echoed those sentiments in a statement issued on Wednesday morning.
“Moving all stadium fields to high-quality natural grass surfaces is the easiest decision the NFL can make,” Howell said. “Players overwhelmingly prefer it and the data is clear that turf is simply safer than artificial turf. It’s an issue that was near the top of the list during my visits to the team and I’ve raised it with the NFL.”
Rodgers suffered the injury while trying to get away from Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd. The four-time league MVP’s left leg was planted in the turf, and his Achilles tendon was torn. A slow-motion replay showed his left calf — the same calf he hit in organized team activities — echoing as he walked down to the bag.
Jets coach Robert Saleh told reporters that he did not believe it was the playing surface that caused Rodgers’ injury, saying, “If it was a non-contact injury, I think it would be something that should be clearly discussed.”
“That was kind of powerful [injury]”I think it was a result of trauma,” Saleh said Tuesday. “I know the players prefer grass, and there’s a lot of investment in these young guys.”
The NFLPA released data earlier this year concluding that non-contact injuries occurred at a higher rate on artificial turf than on grass during the 2022 regular season. But internal league data reviewed by ESPN in November showed the latest rate of non-contact injuries to the knee and ankle And footwork in the NFL was almost identical on natural and artificial playing surfaces. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at the time that the NFL had no plans to convert all playing surfaces to turf, saying “league statistics don’t see issues with the type of surface we have instead of natural turf.”
Howell said in his statement Wednesday that the federation recognizes the “investment” required to convert all fields to turf, but also questioned why NFL team owners are planning to make these changes for the 2026 World Cup but not for their players.
“Although we know there is an investment in making this change, there is a greater cost to everyone in our business if we continue to lose our best players to unnecessary injuries,” Howell said. “It makes no sense for pitches to be switched to high-quality grass surfaces when the World Cup comes around, or football clubs come to visit for exhibition matches in the summer, but poor synthetic surfaces are acceptable for our players. This is worth the investment in. It simply needs to change now.”
Howell took over for DeMaurice Smith in June, when the union’s Player Representatives Council elected him as the fourth CEO in NFLPA history.
When asked about MetLife’s new surface in August, Rodgers said he preferred grass but also emphasized that he liked FieldTurf, calling it “one of the best artificial surfaces I’ve ever seen.”
Several players strongly criticized the artificial surface after Rodgers’ injury, including former Packers teammate and close friend David Bakhtiari.
“Congratulations to the NFL,” Bakhtiari said Monday on social media. “How many other players have to get hurt on artificial turf???! You care about football players more than us. You’re planning to remove all the artificial turf for the next World Cup. So obviously it’s possible. I’m tired of this. Be better!” “
The Eagles’ Darius Slay also weighed in on Tuesday, tearing up the quality of MetLife Stadium’s surface.
“MetLife, everyone knows about this damn stadium,” Sly said. “They need to get real grass. This is garbage. It’s sad that anyone would fall because we’re playing this dangerous game, man. Everyone thinks we’re superheroes, but we’re really not.”
ESPN’s Rich Cimini contributed to this report.
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