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NFL players' union should take a stand to abolish artificial turf

Sunday, September 10, 2000

By Stan Savran

Players are only too happy to tell you, "I only worry about the things I can control." If only that were true. Football players could have control over having to play on artificial turf, but because of an unbalanced set of priorities, but refuse to flex their might. They lament having to play on a surface that a cow -- even a starving cow -- won't eat.

Yet with the annual rash of blown-out knees strewn across the plastic playing fields of the NFL, the players won't exercise their power.

Season ending injuries to high-profile players such as Rob Moore, Joey Galloway and Olandis Gary, all on artificial turf and generally without contact, should energize the movement. That the overwhelming majority of such injuries occur on artificial turf is irrefutable.

And yet the players, more specifically their union, refuse to make it a cause celebre.

Initially, I blamed union president Gene Upshaw for being little more than the owner's lapdog. He long ago should have made the abolition of artificial turf a central issue in any collective bargaining negotiation, putting it on a plane with financial issues.

It should have been non-negotiable, not just as a bargaining chip to be pulled off the table at the first sight of an extra dollar.

But a former player tells me that the rank and file is only interested to a certain point ... the point at which principle bisects the principal they earn on their savings account.

They're willing to complain bitterly about having to play on it, but unwilling to take a potential hit in the salary cap percentage if the owners try to use such a reduction to pay for installation of natural grass.

There's a mangled knee from virtually every game, yet players continue to adopt a "What's good for me is good for me" attitude.

Puzzling, and terribly short-sighted.

The owners should be amenable. After all, a player can't help you sell tickets if his knee has been turned into a Slinky. And with all the new stadia, there are only three outdoor and six indoor facilities with artificial turf. So they're getting there. But there's no need to wait, and the players should exert as much pressure as they are able.

What excuse is there for Jerry Jones, now whining about needing a new playground, not to have installed grass at Texas Stadium by now?

Funny, I don't recall hearing anything about needing natural grass when Atlanta's Jamal Anderson shredded his knee there last season.

Now that Galloway -- who cost the Cowboys two No. 1 draft picks -- is gone for the season, all of the sudden the turf is villainous.

Jones, who makes more money from shoe and soda pop revenue than any other owner in the league, can't afford to underwrite or negotiate a deal to install natural grass?

The cost would be about the size of a signing bonus he would give to a long snapper. He doesn't have to worry about a baseball co-tenant as they do in Philadelphia, although I'm quite sure the Phillies would have no objection.

And what excuse does Ralph Wilson have up in Buffalo? The weather? I've got two words for you Ralph. Green Bay. Plus, the advancement in technology for natural grass surfaces precludes concern over its durability.

The domes present a more dicey problem. But there is a viable alternative: FieldTurf. It's being used at Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play. It's being used at Nebraska and at the University of Washington.

Locally, it's being installed at the UPMC indoor facility for both Pitt and the Steelers. Washington and Jefferson College will play on it in its new stadium. This stuff is synthetic, but has the properties of real grass. It's perfect for a dome, and costs less than $1.5 million to install.

How can owners argue about such a relatively minimal investment, considering the tremendous financial investments they make in the players?

Owners should be more proactive in achieving the goal, but the players have to take some responsibility as well.

Sometimes, you're only a victim if you want to be.

The league and the union are negotiating to extend the current collective bargaining agreement. If the NFLPA doesn't demand the abolition of artificial turf, then shame on it.

They need to remember that no matter how much money you make, you can't buy an ACL. They need to figuratively stand up on their two legs. While they literally are still able.

Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

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