A final word about economics, that ever-lurking excuse to rug over American sport. Artificial turf is no doubt cheaper to maintain in some cases and it is so strong and durable that you can hold a football game on Saturday, a pro game on Sunday, a rock concert on Monday, and on Tuesday welcome the circus, elephants included. But one musn't forget the new expenses turf has forced into the game. The extra padding up and down a player's body, the extraordinary medicines and treatment procedures, the "improved" helmets, the frequent replacement of shredded uniforms, the cost of special shoes. Shoe manufacturers are still experimenting, trying to find "the right soles" to accommodate excessive traction. Most college teams, says Paterno, now travel with three or four extra pairs of shoes apiece for their skill-position players. "At $40 a pair, it adds up." Furthermore, how much will schools and teams be paying for health and liability insurance in years to come if the injuries on artificial turf continue at their current pace?
Ah, yes, the injuries. When Emanuel Celler was special counsel for the NFLPA, he warned the Consumer Product Safety Commission: "By the time an overall inquiry is completed, thousands of our youth and young adults will have been maimed or crippled by playing on artificial turf." That was 12 years ago. How many players have been hospitalized since? How many have been permanently damaged? Youngsters play on turf earlier and earlier, and never get off. It is as if they have been sentenced.
The charge, then, to the custodians of the game is simple: If you've got to have your artificial turf, at least make it safe.
"If manufacturers are smart enough to make 'em, they're smart enough to make 'em safe," says Garrick. "It becomes a matter of priorities. Safety is a priority. Up to now, that priority hasn't been high enough."