The oldest stadium still in use in the NFL today, is Chicago’s own Soldier Field. Named to serve as a memorial to World War I armed forces, the Bears’ home has resided along the bank of Lake Michigan since 1924.
While the stadium saw a $632 million dollar renovation in 2003, it’s still regarded as having one of the worst playing surfaces in the NFL. But the question is: How do those who criticize the turf define “worst?”
There seems to be a common misconception that Bears’ players and upper management are divided on the issues regarding the grass at Soldier Field. The fact of the matter is they are NOT.
Yet year after year, the issue continues to be brought up as if it were a hot-button topic. Probably, the most common misconception – and what likely propels this issue – is that there is heightened risk for injury that factors into the equation. There isn’t.
Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey joined ESPN 1000 yesterday and was once again prodded about the idea of the Bears moving to some kind of artificial infill surface. "It's not a money issue on the turf," McCaskey said. "At this point, it’s primarily a safety issue.”
"The studies that we have looked at have shown a higher incidence of lower leg injuries among players on artificial turf. And we want to prolong careers. We want our players to be safe. We think the safest surface for our players is natural grass."
"It is a disaster," Brian Urlacher said of the field. "I don't know what else to say. We complain about it all the time. You're going to slip at certain times of the game; that's the way it's going to be."
“You can’t tell when you’re going to fall down, you just know it’s going to happen,” cornerback Charles Tillman added.
Despite comments like that, which may suggest to some that the Bears’ players feel the field conditions are unsafe, they actually seem to emphatically agree with George McCaskey.
Since 1994, the NFL Players Association has conducted a bi-annual survey of player opinions regarding NFL playing surfaces. And, since 1994, the majority of players around the league have also been in agreement with McCaskey.
In the conducted 2010 poll, when the hype surrounding the turf conditions at Soldier Field was likely at its peak, Chicago Bears’ players had this to say about their field:
- When asked which surface is more likely to contribute to an injury, 32 of 39 Bears’ players who answered said “artificial infill.”
- When asked which surface causes more soreness and fatigue, 35 of 39 Bears’ players who answered said “artificial infill.”
- When asked which surface is more likely to shorten their career, 37 of 39 Bears’ players who answered said “artificial infill.”
- Finally, when asked which surface was more likely to negatively affect their quality of life after football, 29 of 39 Bears’ players who answered said “artificial infill.” Nine answered “neither.”
So, then what’s the issue? Why did Jay Cutler call it the one of the worst fields in the league? Why did Greg Jennings go out of his way to complain about the field conditions at Soldier prior to the NFC Championship game? It’s simple: Performance.
While the majority of players agree that artificial infill surfaces are more dangerous than grass, they also seem to agree that they are faster, thus allowing them to play at peak speed.
But when asked in the 2010 survey which type of field they preferred to play on, 29 of 39 Bears’ players who answered said “grass.” Only two said “artificial infill,” while eight had no preference.
The bottom line is that both the players and upper management agree that the turf at Soldier Field is safer. And the players agree that they would rather play on grass. So, again, what’s the issue? The fact of that matter is that there is really not one; at least not a controversial one.
Because, while the torn up field and sometimes muddy or frozen surface may not be ideal, the players still prefer grass to infill. It seems as if the only real issue is that the team would like to see Soldier Field as less of a multi-use facility, thus keeping the grass intact longer.
I’m sure the topic will continue to make its way into the headlines for years to come, but don’t get the idea that the solution is artificial infill or that this controversy is over risk of injury. It is not.
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