As far as we've heard, FieldTurf — the NFL's more recent artificial surface — has been a graphic improvement over artificial turf, which caused injuries and literal "rug burns" for decades. The newer surface, which has been in place for the last decade, was rated as the best artificial surface, per the NFLPA's study in 2010.
However, you can count Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger among those ready to buck conventional wisdom. After rookie guard David DeCastro suffered a knee injury of to-be-determined severity in Pittsburgh's 38-7 thrashing of the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, the star quarterback told the NFL Network that FieldTurf was to blame.
"Well, I just saw him, [and his] spirits are high," Roethlisberger said of DeCastro at halftime. "We don't obviously know — well, I don't know what the official word is. This is a great field, but it's FieldTurf, and it's just killing guys because they can't get their feet out of the ground, and it's just another reason we should get rid of FieldTurf."
There's only one problem with Big Ben's theory -- the surface in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium is called "A-Turf" and was installed in July of 2011 ... but it's still Astroturf, and the Bills are the only team using it. In that 2010 poll, the stadium's former Astroturf surface ranked last among all artificial fields in the league.
Roethlisberger clarified his comments on Monday, per his official website:
In my post-game interview on Saturday, when asked about the knee injury David DeCastro suffered, I mistakenly referred to the artificial grass in Buffalo as FieldTurf. My intention was only to say I believe real grass is the safest surface for football, and allows some knee injuries to be avoided. I was really bothered by David's injury in that moment, and can only wish him the best now in his recovery.
In 2010, the NFL's Injury and Safety Panel released a study that said that anterior cruciate ligament injuries were 88 percent more likely to occur on FieldTurf surfaces than on natural grass fields.
"The paper is designed to stimulate further discussion, inquiry, and improvements in playing surfaces," league spokesman Greg Aiello said of the study. "It does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the injuries analyzed. Our panel states in the report that additional analyses, data from future NFL seasons, and studies of injury rates on synthetic turf and natural grass surfaces, including for other athletic populations and levels of football, are needed before any conclusions can be drawn or recommendations made."
Roethlisberger isn't alone in his opinion about FieldTurf, even if it was inaccurate in this case. Former Carolina Panthers and New York Jets defensive lineman Kris Jenkins has said that FieldTurf is not his preference.
"I'd be interested if [the Jets] had grass on the stadium field but right now, that's the big thing and they don't," Jenkins said during the 2011 lockout. "[FieldTurf], it ain't my friend. Just as far as my health is concerned, I need to think about that and how my body can and will respond. New York would be a major possibility, we'll have to see, but at this point in time, I want to take care of me, too."
In the 2010 poll, the field at the New Meadowlands was rated as the second-safest artificial surface in the NFLPA poll, behind the surface at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said last year that the surface at Soldier Field should be switched to the artificial, rubber-based substance, especially after a failure to adequately water the current surface forced the Bears to cancel their 2011 Family Fest practice.
[Les Carpenter: Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck natural frenemies]
"I don't understand why we don't have FieldTurf yet," Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. "We're a fast team, we play fast on FieldTurf. The injury issues aren't as bad as they used to be, they've gone down a lot in the last few years with the way they've made the turf and stuff. I don't understand it. Use our speed. We can run, let us go out there and run."
Bears kicker Robbie Gould had this to say at the time: "Field conditions this bad this early in the season [are] inexcusable. This is becoming a reoccurring problem and needs [to be] addressed."
At this time, 21 NFL teams either play or practice on FieldTurf.
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