CINCINNATI (AP) — NFL fields have come a long way from the days of lumpy artificial surfaces, but there's still a lot of room for improvement, the head of the players' union said Tuesday.
Bengals offensive lineman Eric Winston said the league and the NFL Players Association need to identify trouble spots in advance. He noted that running back Reggie Bush tore a knee ligament after slipping on concrete alongside the playing field in St. Louis last season.
The annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio was called off Sunday night because paint had congealed on the field, making it hard and slippery.
"I think there's a ton of improvement still to be made," Winston said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Obviously there are technological advancements. I think they should apply to fields as well."
The NFLPA and the league have formed a committee to evaluate field conditions overall. The league already has standards for game-day field conditions.
"The new committee will perform research and advise the parties on injury prevention, improved testing methods, and the adoption of tools and techniques to evaluate and improve field surface performance and playability," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.
NFL fields have come a long way in the last 15 years. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia had numerous issues with its uneven artificial surface. Bears receiver Wendell Davis tore tendons in both knees when his foot got caught in a seam in 1993. A preseason game was called off in 2001 because of the uneven surface.
When the Bengals moved into Paul Brown Stadium in 2000, they used a grass surface that tore up easily and left the field sandy, causing kickers to fall. The team switched to an artificial surface.
One of the union's concerns is the wear and tear on fields that host many events.
"The big problem is you have people trying to maximize revenues with these stadiums," Winston said. "They cost a lot to build, so you're going to have monster truck rallies and concerts, and they're trying to do a thousand different things in them, which is fine.
"But at the end of the day, you've got to remember what they're built for. They're built to play football games. If it's tearing up the grass, hurting the turf, creating an unsafe playing environment, then at the end of the day to us it's not worth it. I think that's something that's probably got to be looked at going forward."
Winston said the committee will consider fields used abroad for NFL games as well. The Bengals play in London for the first time this season. He said the union has heard from other teams that the fields there can be soft because of the rain.
"You see a lot of chunks (of grass) flying up," he said. "That's been a concern for some guys — losing footing, pulls and muscle tears. We'll be checking it and see what happens."
Winston said that research on injuries so far seems to indicate that grass is a better surface for players.
"I don't think that's going to shock anybody," he said. "That raises the question: Well, if there's less injuries on natural grass, shouldn't all stadiums have natural grass? We're going to have to ask some tough questions and have creative solutions.
"As we've come a long way from the Vet and those things, we've still got a long way to go into the future. To say this is good enough is the worst thing you can do."
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