Is turf safe for athletes?

MCHS football team kicking on turf off against SRHS on 9/23/22 (Photo: courtesy of Cindy Lui)

By Antonio Serafini, Staff Writer

When it comes to choosing a surface to play on, soccer, football, lacrosse, and many more sports may look at a variety of different surfaces. One of those surfaces is artificial grass, called “turf.” Playing on turf for almost seven years now, I understand the argument against using turf over grass. Playing club soccer year-round on turf fields has had a lasting effect on my body, joints, and muscles slowly aching more and more, leading me to the question: Is artificial turf safe for athletes to play on? 

To talk about a bit of physics, athletes (in this case football players) put very high levels of force and rotation on the field. When playing on a natural field the grass will almost always give before a serious injury can occur. However, on turf, the surface doesn’t tend to give nearly as much, which means that our knees, ankles, and toes will absorb more of the force. Running back for the MCHS varsity football team Sam Mortimer, a senior, stated, “I think more injuries happen on turf than on grass.” A study done by Mark Dracos, who is an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in foot and ankle disorders, found that there is a 28% higher chance an athlete will get a non-contact injury on turf than on a more natural field. Another member of the MCHS football team, senior Gio Lucchesi, sustained an injury while playing against Benicia High school. Lucchesi’s injury is known as “Turf Toe”, this is when the main joint on your big toe is sprained. As the name suggests you can only get turf toe when your toe is stuck in the turf, due to the fact turf does not absorb all the force that an athlete puts into it. Both Mortimer and Lucchesi mentioned that playing football at a high level on turf fields can be dangerous and can result in a higher volume of non-contact injuries to our athletes. Member of the MCHS men’s soccer team, senior Alex Dieter believes playing on really well-kept grass is best. Dieter said, “natural grass feels safer and is better to play on when it is well kept.” Furthermore, all three athletes agreed that they would prefer to play on a more natural surface if the grass is well maintained because a bad grass field can be full of potholes and potentially dangerous divots that can cause injury. 

Torn ligaments, fractured bones, and sprained ankles aren’t the only thing that makes turf dangerous to our athletes. Another key factor that suggests playing on turf can be harmful to our athletes is the potential exposure to cancer-causing agents. According to a study done at the University of Connecticut, every new expanse of artificial turf contains plastic grass and about 120 tons of finely chopped tires that emit a small amount of toxic, cancer-causing, mutation-triggering chemicals and metals that could be potentially harmful to athletes. Although the research is not completely conclusive, there is some evidence to back up the fact that substances such as benzene and lead can cause cancer. 

Turf is a simple way and effective way to keep a field well-maintained in all weather conditions, however, it is not entirely safe.  Primarily turf fields are likely to cause major injuries like ACL or MCL injuries that could potentially end an athlete’s career. With careers potentially on the line, it is essential that the sports community comes together to find a universal solution that protects the health of our athletes.

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