Why places like Arrowhead Stadium might be less likely to produce concussions

According to a new study investigating field type and concussions, synthetic turf creates a greater deceleration impact than natural grass.

Turf has been hated on for years by NFL players. It creates more opportunities for injury: Turf burn, turf toe, and other lower-body injuries. Not to mention the pellets used in turf are thought to be not exactly the healthiest thing. Now, there’s even more reason to hate it… It might be one of the many factors that contribute to a player suffering a concussion.

A recent study from the University of Hawaii looked into the link between concussions and playing field type. First noted by Derek Saul at Forbes, the study titled Impact Force Differences on Natural Grass Versus Synthetic Turf Football Fields investigated deceleration impact between playing surfaces, finding that the impact was “significantly greater” on turf than natural grass.

Here’s Saul’s summation of the study:

“Researchers strapped a football helmet and sensors to a life-like mannequin and dropped the mannequin on its front, back and side a total of 1,710 on 10 different grass fields and nine turf fields, measuring the fall’s impact with sensor data.”

Rapid head movement can cause the brain to essentially physically rattle inside the cranium, and the quicker the head decelerates, the more force it experiences, raising the likelihood of concussion. Grass, ostensibly, provides a surface that serves as a softer cushion with a more gradual deceleration upon ground contact.

Obviously, factors specific to the play and tackle are of importance, and field type is far from a silver bullet solution to the NFL’s concussion problem.

Concussion study adds to the discourse on concussions in the NFL

In Week 3, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered what looked like a concussion and was permitted to come back in the same game. He played again in Week 4 and left that game on a stretcher, spending a few hours in the hospital that night after suffering another head injury.

While the timing is happenstance given that studies like this take plenty of time and research to put together and write on findings, it couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time with the league and NFLPA working together to fortify its concussion protocol.

Any extra data and information on what could protect players from serious head trauma is important to consider.

Will the NFL ever mandate grass? No, unless the risk of head trauma is brought down to nearly zero by the change, probably not. The reasoning is pure efficiency. For most indoor stadiums — exceptions being for places like State Farm Stadium which has a unique multi-million dollar roll-out system to grow grass outside and roll it inside — natural grass is simply impractical. A similar issue exists for cold-weather, outdoor stadiums where grass becomes incredibly difficult to keep up to par in the winter months. That’s why teams like the Bills and Patriots use turf.

 What NFL fields are natural grass?

In 2022, these teams have natural grass at their home field:

  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Chicago Bears
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Denver Broncos
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Las Vegas Raiders
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Washington Commanders
  • Pittsburgh Steelers

The games played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London this year are played on Turf. While the Spurs play on grass, turf is stored underneath the field and brought up via an impressive mechanical transformation.

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