SI Vault
John Underwood
November 15, 1971
On AstroTurf, the wetter the slipperier. On Poly-Turf, the drier the slipperier. On Tartan Turf, don't throw cigarette butts. But the burning question is injuries
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November 15, 1971

New Slant On The Mod Sod

On AstroTurf, the wetter the slipperier. On Poly-Turf, the drier the slipperier. On Tartan Turf, don't throw cigarette butts. But the burning question is injuries

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Garvey said he had appealed to the owners to cooperate in a study of injuries on artificial surfaces. The first 10 replies from NFL clubs stated, in suspiciously similar language, "Thank you for your concern. We are forwarding your request to the NFL Player Relations Association." The NFLPRA, not to be confused with the NFLPA, is a committee of owners headed by the Giants' Wellington Mara, which was set up to be the collective bargaining agent for the owners. What, Garvey wondered, did collective bargaining have to do with injuries? Mara voiced concern, more over Garvey's intrusiveness than over injuries, and said he would like to meet with various player reps to discuss the whole matter. The NFLPA thereupon asked for a halt to the installation of synthetic fields until the safety question has been settled and threatened to get a court injunction, citing a collective bargaining clause in its contract concerning a change in working conditions, if any club dared put in a phony field.

A man from Monsanto said he had it all figured out. What was happening was that the turf people had been caught in the middle of a labor-management fight. He had a point. The owners know that they will have to negotiate increased pension benefits when the present contract expires, so they don't want to aid the players' cause by joining in the outcry over injuries.

What really worried the man from Monsanto, however, was the prospect that manufacturers will be swamped with lawsuits. "Mothers," he said gloomily, "out to collect on injured sons."

The rebuttal on the final day of the hearing by the three turf manufacturers was an anticlimax, except that one of the principals had a beautiful head of synthetic hair that captured the flavor if not the spirit of the occasion. Monsanto showed, in 45 handsomely bound pages, that injuries were down on AstroTurf, although the company did not advertise the fact anymore because it realized that that kind of statistical data is "considered self-serving." As for the field in Seattle where Dr. Garrick made his study, Monsanto characterized it as an "older generation" model (the latest is No. 4) that could stand a new pad. ( Washington does not want to pay for a new pad; it has a year to run on a five-year guarantee.)

The man from Minnesota Mining offered 13 pages on Tartan Turf. He freely admitted that he could not really answer the question "Are there more injuries on artificial turf?" But what, he asked in turn, is meant by "natural grass"? Is it " Kentucky blue grass...which stands straight up and a player's cleats slide on it," or is it " Bermuda, low and interlaced, and cleats can lock within its tufting?"

The president of American Biltrite, Morton Broffman, kept his prepared statement on Poly-Turf to himself. There were no copies. He had it written in ink, in a small hand, and during most of his testimony only Congressman Moss and an aide were on hand.

The most curious testimony was that of Dr. Donald Cooper of Oklahoma State. On the one hand, Dr. Cooper seemed the most knowledgeable of all on the synthetic turf phenomenon. He spoke, for example, on the "cultural shock" of players running on a strange surface (comparable to a man trying on ice skates for the first time), and on the slide variance of "natural" fields and the "psychological implications" of injuries. Do you injure more readily when you lose? Yes, probably.

But through it all, Dr. Cooper kept trying to cop everybody out, saying that a committee investigating the causes of football injuries in relation to the field of play was venturing into "dangerous country" and risked opening a "Pandora's box." He said turf was one of the "lesser" contributors to injury. He indicated that the committee ought to pack up and go home and, in fact, said so. Naturally, the committee interrupted Dr. Cooper whenever it could.

Nonetheless, as best as can be determined, there are now three major investigations under way: Dr. Garrick's (for the NFLPA); one that Don Weiss, the NFL's director of public relations, says the league is conducting that seems to be on injuries as a whole, since it is "all-encompassing" and, at any rate, will take "some time before [it] can be definitive"; and a 44-college survey by the NCAA made over the 1969-70 seasons, with results to be released in January. If it is solutions they want, there are already a number flying around. Beige-colored fields to cut down on heat and discoloration. Newly designed shoes. (Hockey players do not skate in basketball shoes.) Pre-flooded fields. Helmets padded on the outside. Vitamin E.

Nevertheless, certain contradictions would appear to be endemic, or perhaps generic, as Dr. Cooper darkly suggested. On AstroTurf, for example, the wetter the slipperier; on Poly-Turf, the hotter-drier the slipperier, and the wetter the better. And if more injuries occur on artificial turf because players "run faster on it, and therefore hit harder," does that mean coaches who have been looking for faster, harder-hitting players all these years will now begin to recruit slower, softer hitters? As for the traction, says a Monsanto rep, you ask a coach how much and he says, "As much as I can get," you ask a team doctor how much and he says, "As little as I can get away with."

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