So, did the NFL demand that the rugs be rolled up in the stadiums in which its games were played? It did not. NFL cities have millions of dollars invested in artificial turf. The SRI report was received as if it were science fiction. When that first study was made in 1974, there were 13 turfed stadiums in the NFL. Today, there are 16.
According to Grippo, the '74 report cost the NFL only "around $40,000"—about the price of the hors d'oeuvres for its Super Bowl party. But SRI was not commissioned to make any more studies. Thus was established a provocative working syllogism:
A) You make a study and find that artificial turf is dangerous to the health of your athletes.
B) You don't change the turf, and turf-related injuries continue, even advance.
C) Therefore: The thing to do is to not make any more studies.
Eventually, the NFL found amazing new meaning in the one study it did conduct. In a typical recent statement, Minnesota general manager Mike Lynn echoed the party line when he said, "The SRI study found artificial turf doesn't increase injuries."
"Incredible," says Grippo.
( Lynn, of course, has reason to wish black into white. The Vikings play on the infamous Metrodome SuperTurf, which some players call "fuzzy concrete" and which one coach has compared to a "cheap house rug.")
To be sure, the history of injury analysis in football—high school to pro—has always seemed more hysterical than historical. Most analyses have been put together by a few highly motivated people with limited resources. The results are always suspect. But in 1980 the NFL found a surveyor whose tune it could dance to: the National Athletic Injury/ Illness Reporting System, or NAIRS.
NAIRS was—it doesn't exist any longer except to the NFL—a data-gathering-and-deciphering unit based at Penn State University and held together by a shoestring. Before the NFL bought in, NAIRS had been pretty much discounted by the colleges and high schools it served as being a "good idea" but too complicated and too erratic in its fact-finding processes. "Teenage volunteers were submitting the information," says one critic. "I wouldn't buy it," says Carl Blyth of North Carolina, a respected critic-analyst of the perils in college athletics.