- Aaron Rodgers suffered a season-ending injury while playing on artificial turf
- Controversial surface poses special challenges for players and coaches
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Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles tear has reignited debate over whether NFL players are at greater risk of injury on artificial turf than on natural turf. NFL Players Association Demands Change Again; the NFL has been accused of prioritizing profit over people.
Deon Giddens is a former defensive back who spent time with the Buffalo Bills. He now trains athletes in professional football, baseball, basketball and boxing, including MLB All-Star Mookie Betts and Titans guard Matthew Jackson.
Here, he highlights the specific threats posed by playing on artificial turf and why figure skating can help keep players healthy.
Artificial grass is dangerous. We can’t identify every injury on the field, but I believe it’s a big factor in the type of injuries we’ve seen over the last five or six years.
Now we’re seeing a lot of damaged tendons and ligaments – torn ACLs, torn MCLs, and a lot of Achilles tendon injuries like Aaron Rodgers’.
Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles tear has reignited the turf-versus-grass debate
Deon Giddens is a former defensive back who now coaches professional players across all sports
Turf doesn’t give as much, so a lot of things pop without contact. That’s the difference.
Let’s say you’re in your house and there’s a wet spot you can’t see: if you accidentally step into it and your foot slips – while your other foot is planted on the dry spot – you still have the possibility of recovery. You can catch up.
If it’s a steep, rough surface and my foot doesn’t give, my knee or my ligaments – whatever is holding it all together – will break. Something has to move…it’s the law of physics.
Surface temperature is also a factor. Artificial grass tends to heat up much faster – and stay much hotter – than natural grass. For example, if the air temperature is 95 degrees, the temperature on the ground may be 120 degrees. This also plays a role in the speed and ability of the surface to yield.
But I agree with the NFL, it’s not as simple as: change the turf. It’s case by case – age is a factor, a player’s injury history is a factor, climate, weather, all that.
This is not a simple solution. We’re brainwashed because we hear it so much, but we also have to consider off-season training with these players. If you have pre-existing injuries you don’t fix the defects so we go back the next season and keep getting injured again and all of a sudden we have a non contact ligament injury…is that really the synthetic grass ?
Giddens trains football, baseball, basketball and boxing players, including Mookie Betts
Rodgers suffered season-ending injury just four snaps into his debut with the New York Jets
I think players need to train differently if they know they are playing on grass. There was a time when we could get away with it, but now we need to be more aware of strengthening our ligaments.
This might mean more work with the resistance bands. This could mean being unconventional and using other sports as a cross-reference to reinforce certain areas they are not used to.
I see a lot of things that ice skaters or speed skaters do: on an unstable surface, ice, they have to be strong enough to move their body on one blade. Hockey players have strong ligaments, great mobility and great strength in certain secondary muscle groups that coaches sometimes tend to neglect.
I like to train players one leg at a time. Athletes will rarely have the opportunity to achieve the perfect jump or cut. You must therefore ensure that each leg is stable and strong independently.
I do a lot of barefoot work, to strengthen the feet. Skater jumps, lateral drills – landing, holding, explosiveness… what skaters need to do.
Athletes rarely have the opportunity to go straight – it’s normally a response to a batted ball, or a mirror or shadow to someone else.
You want to make sure your ankles and joints are strong and can handle the weight of what a regular season, playoff run, or championship looks like.
So I understand why people are shouting: change terrain. We will see these types of injuries again. But I don’t think there are that many.