There’s a chance Washington’s starting defensive line will be reunited Sunday.
Slit film is one of three types of synthetic turfs used in NFL stadiums, and the NFL Players Association recently called for a ban on it and for all such playing surfaces to be replaced. The NFLPA cited “statistically higher” rates of noncontact injuries, missed-time injuries, lower-extremity injuries and foot and ankle injuries on slit-film turf compared with all other playing surfaces.
“The NFL and its experts have agreed with this data and acknowledge that the slit film field is less safe,” JC Tretter, the former Cleveland Browns center who is the NFLPA president, wrote in a recent essay. “… The NFL has not only refused to mandate this change immediately, but they have also refused to commit to mandating a change away from slit film in the future at all.”
A study published in 2019 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed reported injuries in the NFL’s regular season from 2012 to 2016 and found that playing on synthetic turf resulted in 16 percent more lower-extremity injuries than playing on natural grass.
In addition, the NFL’s data shows a notably higher rate of noncontact injuries on synthetic turfs in 2019, and studies of earlier seasons found a similar discrepancy. According to the NFL, there are two to three additional injuries per year, mostly basic ankle sprains, at each slit-film turf stadium — but data shows fewer ACL injuries suffered on slit-film surfaces than the leaguewide norm.
The league says data does not support the NFLPA’s position.
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is a narrowing of the difference between injuries that can be attributed to the surface between synthetic and natural grass, to the point where in 2021, there wasn’t a statistically meaningful difference between the rate of injuries,” Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said on a recent conference call with reporters. “And I’m speaking specifically, again, about the sort of lower-extremity foot, ankle, knee injuries, et cetera, that can be attributed to the cleat or the surface or the interface between the two.”
Miller added: “We have some synthetic surfaces that from an injury-rate perspective are better than natural grass and some natural grass surfaces that are better than other synthetic surfaces. … The differences between the two sets of surfaces have disappeared to the point now where we don’t really think about synthetic versus natural grass when we research it. We think about each individual surface and what we can do to make those better for the players who play on them.”
Players’ concerns about synthetic fields are not new, and they often are sparked by a spate of injuries.
Recently, Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary suffered a noncontact ACL injury at Detroit’s Ford Field, a stadium with slit-film turf.
In Week 4, Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine suffered a fracture in his left lower leg when his team played at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which also uses slit-film turf. Cine told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the field was “sketchy” and insinuated it played a part in his injury.
“You would think [with] an international game, they would cross their T’s, dot their I’s with the field, but it didn’t happen that way,” Cine said. “There were bumps. When you were running on it, it felt like you were running on concrete, so it’s a bunch of crazy stuff. … I can’t say that’s definitely why I got hurt, but I know the field was not ideal at all.”
And in February, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL on a crossing route during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. The Inglewood, Calif., stadium has synthetic turf, though it’s not slit film.
Other players have voiced complaints about turf fields and the toll they take on their bodies after games. Across the NFL, 16 teams play home games in stadiums with various types of artificial turf.
“Much rather grass any day of the week,” said Washington tight end Logan Thomas, who plays his home games on grass at FedEx Field. “I’ve always hated turf. I feel it in my joints. I can feel it in my knees and my hips and my back. On the grass, it just feels like you have more shock absorption and when you’re cutting — you cut through the grass cleanly — but on turf, you’re really thinking about, ‘All right, I got to step my foot in the ground the right way without slipping or sliding.’ ”
Added tackle Sam Cosmi: “My feet always have to be in the ground, and you can feel the tilt with the turf. Definitely after the game, I know the old guys complain their knees and ankles and stuff are always hurting. I know I hurt a little bit more. I wake up, and I’m like, ‘Dang, I didn’t think I got hit there.’ And I didn’t. I just feel like it’s the turf.”
Commanders Coach Ron Rivera said the team will decide Young’s status later in the week and that the turf at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., won’t be a deterrent. If Young is ready to play, he will play — but on a strict snap count.
“If he’s available, then that’s not going to be a concern,” Rivera said. “… I think the thing people got to understand is all the turfs are different, they really are.”