LAS VEGAS — A vast majority of players in the union want to play on natural grass fields, NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell said Tuesday, adding that there is a certain “hypocrisy” with some NFL stadiums agreeing to adhere to FIFA regulations by installing grass for upcoming soccer matches in the 2026 World Cup but reverting to artificial turf for football games.
“It’s really basic,” Howell said Wednesday in an NFLPA news conference at the Mandalay Bay resort. “It’s not rocket science. Ninety-two percent of our union wants grass. That’s compelling. The bottom line is, it’s unquestionable that our union wants to have a working condition where they play on grass.”
Howell said data collected by the union showed injuries occurring on a slower rate on natural grass fields, as opposed to artificial turf.
Four players on the NFLPA’s executive committee — Atlanta Falcons defensive end Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars placekicker Brandon McManus, former Cincinnati Bengals safety Michael Thomas and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler — concurred. Ekeler talked about how much “turf tape” he has to wear on his forearms when playing on synthetic grass because of the burns he accumulates.
“You bounce a little bit different off concrete, rubber and plastic than you do off grass and dirt,” Ekeler laughed. “It hurts. Turf is a lot harder surface.
“When it comes to my legs, on turf, you stick. On grass, dirt, you move a little bit. So, it’s the accumulation of those little things.”
Thomas said simply practicing on turf during the week leaves players feeling more sore heading into the game, leading to tighter hamstrings and more “wear and tear” on the body.
“We’ve got to fix it,” said Campbell, a 16-year veteran.
NFLPA president JC Tretter compared injury trends.
“Turf has stayed relatively consistent at an injury rate over the last decade,” Tretter said. “Grass this year has its highest injury rate over the last decade, but it was still lower than the injury rate on turf. So, the worst performing year on grass is still better than turf this year.”
Said Howell: “Today, 13 fields are grass, the balance a version of synthetic turf. Yes, there is movement afoot to identify the highest consistent playing surface. But at the end of the day, our players’ preference is grass and that should matter.”
With seven NFL stadiums being used for World Cup play switching to grass — Gillette Stadium, MetLife Stadium, Lumen Field, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, AT&T Stadium, NRG Stadium, SoFi Stadium — Howell saw a path.
“There’s a model out there that says, for another sport it’s possible,” Howell said. “Now certainly the average football player, the football game is different than soccer. We appreciate that. But the science alone says this is possible.
“And so, when we have engaged the league, we’ve actually had a very rational conversation. We’ve looked at the data, we’ve looked at, is there a material difference? And at any given point in time, depending on the timeline … yeah. [It could extend a] guy’s career by two or three years and that’s meaningful to our union and that’s dollars to them and their families, their lives. That’s a difference in chronic pain for the rest of their lives. So, this extends way beyond the aesthetics of us as fans watching the game. This is really a workplace issue for our players.”
Howell and Tretter also took umbrage with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying the San Francisco 49ers’ practice field at UNLV, where grass was put on top of the Rebels’ artificial practice field and decried as being too soft by the team, was “playable” earlier in the week.
“When you’re putting a grass sod field over existing turf, you would put a hard plastic cover over the turf before putting the sod down,” Tretter said. “My understanding is that’s not what happened. … I don’t know how that doesn’t happen.
“‘Playable’ is not the same thing as high quality. So, we can’t kind of talk out of both sides of our mouth on this.”
While players were not exactly fans of the hip-drop tackle, which can lead to serious injury, they were not necessarily against banning it.
“I don’t understand how you can police it the right way and allow us to do our job,” Campbell said. “At the end of the day, it’s like, how do you tackle a guy?
“This is definitely a big issue. I know the whole point is to make the game safer, right? And keep guys on the field … but at the same time, there’s only so much you can restrict the game and still call it football. … I don’t think taking it out of the game is going to work.”
“It only makes common sense that when the business of football is done, that the guys have the opportunity to partake of what Las Vegas has to offer,” Howell said. “So, you may have seen policy change to that effect, which we’re happy certainly to make. It’s common sense.”
Campbell was not a fan of the NFL banning gambling outside of football, calling the rules “outdated.”
“There was a time when it made sense,” he said. “But now, with technology, and being able to bet on your phone, change can come pretty fast.”