This past Sunday was one of those tough NFL Sundays in which a handful of big stars exited their games with different lower body injuries. Torn ACL’s in knees, busted ankles, toe issues.
In my opinion, I chalk it up to football being a brutal sport, even if you eliminate the contact. The human body is just not supposed to be flying around at full speed, making cuts, jumping, leaping, all of that. Of course, the body is designed to allow you to do that, but it certainly is not good and causes wear and tear.
That’s not the point of this column, though.
As the injuries mounted, you saw many players, coaches, analysts come out and speak against artificial turf, as the majority of these injuries occurred on turf surfaces. In fact, the majority of non-contact injuries occur on turf versus natural grass.
It’s a topic that I have always found fascinating. So many venues and schools over the past decade have shifted to turf. Many of these local school districts pinch their pennies and install new, beautiful turf and it is seen as a lovely asset. Although it is costly to install, it is relatively easy and cheap to maintain. It also allows teams to compete during inclement weather.
Recently though, as these leg injuries have grown in prevalence, there has never been such a strong push against turf. It’s interesting how so many places hope to one day have turf, while evidence suggests it is not the safest option.
Not to be insensitive, but like I just mentioned, there is always risk when playing high-intensity sports. I personally am not for turf because I am a traditionalist, but I can absolutely see why these venues push for it, and I think the benefits outweigh the heightened injury risk. Some people also suggest that artificial turf is bad for the environment, but that is so far beyond me that I can’t even pretend that I know the answer to that.
Grass may be a little safer, but it really is tough to manage. For a quality surface, it requires daily maintenance, the man power and machinery to do so. Teams can’t use it when it rains due to the slip factor as well as the damage it will cause to the grass. I love a nicely kept grass field, but if I was an athletic director, I would absolutely push for turf if it was within budget.
Safety is the most important thing to consider, which makes me sound hypocritical. I am pushing for safety but also advocating for turf. Again, maybe I’m insensitive, maybe I’m ignorant. I just feel that no matter what, you are risking injury. Sure, turf is a harder surface that increases lower body injuries, but it also is just such a long term asset in other areas.
Now, to address the less important aspects of turf versus grass.
One thing that I have always found interesting is how the gameplay of certain sports is affected.
I know that soccer teams typically prefer natural grass. There have been reports over the years that the New England Revolution has pushed the Kraft family to go back to grass at Gillette Stadium, which is currently turf. The Krafts typically lean more toward the football side of things with the Patriots, so those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. There have been discussions about the Krafts building a new soccer stadium in the Boston area for the Revs and part of those talks stemmed from the turf debate.
On the other hand, I know field hockey coaches prefer turf, at least at the local level. The reason is because of how much the game is slowed down by natural grass.
You see it all the time at the high school level. Two good teams will square off, but if one is a grass team and the other is turf, the home team almost always wins since they are used to the conditions. Usually, I would scoff at a coach for pointing at something like that, but I have heard so many coaches complain and the results absolutely back up their frustrations.
If I had to give you one concise take, it is this: turf is better than grass, all things considered.
Let me give you my take on our two best football teams.
Hendricken held on to beat Central 14-12 last week in a game that came down to the final minute. The Knights had a chance to tie the score on a two-point conversion with 13 seconds left but the Hawks would make the stop to clinch the win and first place in Division I.
Hendricken won again, what else is new? However, it is impossible to ignore how close the past two weeks were against La Salle then Central.
Will this be the year that the Hawks are knocked off? I would say no, as they won each game and are the reigning champs. It’s impossible to pick against them until they are actually beaten. But, I do think this is the closest the competition has been in the four years that I have been here. The Rams and Knights could have won those games, and even North Kingstown played Hendricken tough earlier in the season.
Then there is Cranston West, who came back to beat Mt. Pleasant last Friday night after getting off to a slow start. The Falcons are all of a sudden the hottest team in the state outside of the Hawks. West beat East Providence, almost beat the Hawks, beat Cumberland, and now has another big time win under their belts over the Kilties.
Last week, I said that although West had a chance at a Division II title, it was still maybe a step or two away from being a true contender. Now, I have to place the Falcons right there at the top.
Cumberland, Woonsocket, South Kingstown and Portsmouth have all dipped a bit while West has risen. All of those teams are still in this thing, but West and St. Ray’s have claimed the top two spots in my mind.
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