Nissan Stadium artificial turf won’t help Tennessee Titans injuries
Note that when the Tennessee Titans revealed this news on their own website Tuesday morning, they didn’t just spill it directly. They prepared an argument.
The headline read as follows: “Why the Titans are switching to turf at Nissan Stadium starting in 2023.”
Felt a bit like someone seeking to soften the blow of news that might not be terribly popular: “Hear us out on this, y’all, OK?”
OK, I thought I would hear them out.
I’d be a tough sell, though. Like many fans, I strongly favor football being played on grass, for reasons that range from aesthetics to player safety. I’ve disliked turf since I was a little kid watching players out there getting rug burns on what amounted to concrete covered by a thin slice of worn, green carpet.
Artificial fields have improved considerably since then (the Titans are using some fanciness called “monofilament”) but they still are fake fields.
And past and current NFL players, for the most part, are adamant about preferring the real thing. They say that grass is more forgiving and easier on bodies, and if anything, recent surges of opinion have called for all NFL stadiums to universally go from turf to grass, not the other way around.
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That’ll never happen, of course. It’s easy to see why so many NFL owners have and will continue to want artificial turf fields. “The main reason: Cost,” wrote Charlotte Magazine in a piece on that city’s NFL stadium switching from grass to turf. “Grass fields are far more difficult and expensive to maintain.”
I’m sure that had nothing to do with the Titans’ decision, right?
But you said you’d hear the Tennessee Titans out
The “why” behind this from the Titans is really fascinating, because it spits in the face of conventional wisdom.
The Titans argue that their stadium will be safer for players with turf than it was with grass. The team cited data from the NFL saying that Nissan was more prone to “lower-body injuries” than other monofilament fields. And then this, per the team: “Nissan Stadium was consistently among the leaders in lower body injuries of stadiums across the league.”
The Titans even employed Mike Vrabel’s voice to emphasize their point.
“We’ve had a lot of issues (with the grass at Nissan Stadium) after a certain part of the season,” Vrabel said in a statement put out by the team. “It’s hard to grow grass. It gets slick. We put new turf down, we try and put new sod down and it’s slick. You see guys slipping. Those are real things that I’ve witnessed over my time here.”
1. Vrabel isn’t wrong. Nissan Stadium’s playing surface does typically worsen during seasons. Wear and tear from games – TSU played four times at Nissan in 2022 – but it’s more the colder weather. By season’s end, the field clearly isn’t what it was in September. See the Music City Bowl for past examples.
2. The Titans have had waaaay too many injuries in the past two seasons, and I don’t think the team has ever fully understood the reasons behind that. Maybe it’s the field? Hey, maybe like that.
Will a switch to turf actually help at Nissan Stadium?
Depends on who you ask.
Most NFL players don’t like turf and haven’t for a long time. In 2020, NFLPA president JC Tretter wrote a letter calling for teams to convert all game and practice fields to grass.
“Whenever I practiced on an artificial field surface, my joints felt noticeably stiffer the next day. The unforgiving nature of artificial turf compounds the grind on the body we already bear from playing a contact sport,” Tretter wrote. “… The data supports the anecdotes you’ll hear from me and other players: Artificial turf is significantly harder on the body than grass.”
Last year, when an NFL study reportedly found (per ESPN) that non-contact injuries were occurring at basically the same rates on artificial and grass fields, players were skeptical.
“I do know that grass is much better for you than turf is despite what the studies are,” quarterback Baker Mayfield told WBTV in Charlotte. “I would like to know who’s doing those studies.”
Mayfield is a knowledgeable source. He played on real grass in Cleveland and then on turf last season for the Carolina Panthers, whose stadium recently switched. That move came as the city’s MLS expansion team, which is also owned by David Tepper, was moving in.
Nissan maintained its natural surface while hosting Nashville SC’s first couple of seasons and about two decades of games for US Soccer, an organization – and a sport – that greatly prefers grass.
It’ll be unfortunate if this means an end to international soccer at Nissan. The city was already headed that way with a new Titans stadium in the works, but this is a few years earlier than anticipated. (GEODIS Park conceivably could host US games, but it’s smaller, and US Soccer has liked Nissan a lot.)
The Titans, meanwhile, were moving games to a turf surface in a few years anyway. This just speeds it up.
If this really isn’t just about money and they seriously believe that switching can keep their injury-ravaged roster healthier next season, then by all means, go ahead. No one can be critical of all the injuries and then complain once the Titans are doing something to help address it, especially if it works.
But I’d imagine Titans players weren’t consulted much about this.
Perhaps they’ll be like me: They’ll understand why the Titans are doing such a thing. They just don’t have to like it.
Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.