Turf Toe Tales
It's official - the nation's sportswriters have a collective case of turf toe. This was never more apparent than after Jacksonville's All-Pro tackle, Tony Boselli, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Jags' last regular-season game. Boselli, who was untouched on the play, fell to the turf and then was helped to the sideline as the suddenly silent Alltel Stadium crowd considered what the injury might mean to their team's Super Bowl run.
If this sounds familiar, it should. In the first game of the 1999 NFL season, the Jets lost QB Vinny Testaverde to a ruptured Achilles tendon, all but ending their playoff hopes. In the season's second game, the Atlanta Falcons' All-Pro running back, Jamal Anderson, tore an ACL - like Testaverde, without being touched - and the Falcons' chances of returning to the Super Bowl went up in flames.
What sounded very different was the post-game reaction. Jags Coach Tom Coughlin was asked by a reporter for The Orlando Sentinel about the condition of the field, which had taken a great deal of punishment during the previous day's Gator Bowl. "The field was not good," Coughlin responded. "Do I think that particular incident was caused by it? No. But I also do not think it was as good as it should have been for what was at stake." And that was that. In the days that followed, no editorials were written in any newspaper - we did a Nexis ® search - blaming Boselli's injury on the grass field. No stories, except for those that picked up Coughlin's quote, so much as suggested that the grass could have contributed to the injury.
What a contrast that was to the cacophony of concern raised in the aftermath of Testaverde's and Anderson's injuries on synthetic turf. "Artificial turf caused Anderson's torn ACL," declared the Des Moines Register. A New York Times columnist blamed "the killer carpet" for non-contact injuries suffered by Testaverde and teammates Leon Johnson and Wayne Chrebet.
The New York Post ran a sidebar headlined, "Recent Victims of Artificial Turf." The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., called turf "a threat to all athletes." In all, we counted more than 150 newspaper articles blaming synthetic turf for destroying teams' seasons and players' careers.
Interestingly, no charts listing high-profile injuries (like the New York Post's) mentioned some of 1999's other season-ending injuries occurring on grass: The Broncos' Terrell Davis, who tore two knee ligaments and medial cartilage on Denver's grass field; Jets linebacker Chad Cascadden, who suffered a knee injury in Denver; the Saints' Joe Johnson, who blew out a knee in a drill on a grass practice field; Kansas City's Kimble Anders, who tore his Achilles tendon while playing on the Chiefs' grass field; and the Broncos' John Mobley, who was lost in the same game as Anders with a knee injury.
To be sure, NFL players are as much to blame for the skewed reporting as the media. NFL Players Association surveys repeatedly have found that around 85 percent of its members prefer to play on grass and 95 percent believe turf is more likely to contribute to injury, but the NFLPA - while loudly publicizing these findings - has resisted attempts to collect full injury data. For its part, the NFL continues to stand behind several studies it funded in the 1980s (conducted by Iowa sports injury consultant John Powell) that found no significant difference in serious injuries between turf and grass. A 1997 Cornell University study of injuries reported in medical journals - which concluded that 50 percent more foot and ankle injuries occur on turf - should have spurred the league to collect more complete data. So far, the league has stood pat.
The league's other efforts, though, remain focused on eradicating turf. Once new stadiums open in Detroit and Pittsburgh, and Houston rejoins the NFL in 2002, 24 of 32 teams will play on grass.