Stop the Negligence: NFL Needs to Take Responsibility for Field Safety

After yet another debacle involving an unsafe playing surface, it's time for the NFL to show it actually cares about player safety.

For the second time in just a few years, the Packers found themselves in an odd situation caused by poor conditions on a non-NFL field for a preseason game.

In 2016, the Hall of Fame Game at Canton’s Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was supposed to be between the Packers and the Indianapolis Colts. However, a bizarre situation with congealed paint on the field left it unsafe for the players, and the game was ultimately canceled.

Then, last night, the Packers and Oakland Raiders met in Winnipeg, Canada at IG Field, the home of the CFL’s Blue Bombers. Conditions in the end zones were deemed unsafe in areas where the CFL goal posts had to be removed. Thus, the teams played on a shortened 80-yard field and had no kickoffs.

One has to wonder what the hell the NFL is doing after it schedules contests in non-NFL stadiums. How are these substandard field conditions not foreseen? One would expect that in games to be held in non-NFL stadiums in particular the league would have a team of people dedicated to ensuring field conditions meet the standard expected out of NFL playing surfaces. How does something like this happen?

According to the CBC, On Ice Entertainment Ltd. was the group in charge of converting the field from a CFL to NFL field. The president of the company told the CBC he would “like to wait” before making any public comments about the matter.

Consider how much money fans spent to attend the bungled event, at which almost no starters played at all, and the matter looks even worse for the NFL.

The two incidents involving the Packers in recent years aren’t the only times the NFL has had issues with field quality in non-league stadiums.

Just this past season, the Chiefs and the Rams were scheduled to play a game on Monday Night Football at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City “despite significant concerns about the playing surface.” The NFL’s official statement was as follows: “We are working closely with the field manager at Azteca Stadium and others to ensure that we have na NFL-quality surface for our game, and we are looking forward to kicking off in Mexico City on Monday Night.”

The league ultimately moved the game back to Los Angeles as players began considering sitting out the game and the coverage of the field issues continued becoming more critical.

Despite this absurd debacle, the NFL scheduled another game in Mexico City for the 2019 season.

The NFL simply doesn’t care about field safety

Now, it would be easy to say here that the NFL should just stop scheduling games in stadiums that don’t have NFL teams or are not outfitted for NFL competition. After all, if the league either can’t or won’t allocate the necessary resources to making sure the fields are safe for NFL play, then it would seem negligent for the league to allow play to happen on these surfaces.

But even in NFL stadiums, there have been ongoing issues with field quality where the NFL has not stepped in at all.

The Raiders themselves played in a baseball stadium up through this past season. There’s a long history of complaints about the playing surface at the Oakland Coliseum, including in the aftermath of this past season’s Steelers/Raiders game. The rest of the facilities at the stadium are an absolute dump, frequently cited as being among the worst in American professional sports.

The Bears’ Soldier Field is regularly noted for its abysmal field conditions and awful playing experience.  The field is overseen by the Chicago Park District, and is shared by the Bears and multiple other attractions. It’s not unusual for the field to be re-sodded several times per season, with it often being just a patch job in between the hash marks.

Despite the field being considered a “major embarrassment and a health risk,” routinely being ranked among the worst in the league and even having the mayor of Chicago state that the turf issues needed to be addressed, Soldier Field is still an undeniable safety hazard during every game it hosts.

For one more example, take a look at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx field, a field that’s so bad the NFLPA has conducted investigations and that Kirk Cousins, while still quarterback of the team, said the field “doesn’t look like a professional NFL field should” and that it “can be the difference between a win and a loss” when it causes people to slip.

This is the same field that helped prematurely kill off the career of Robert Griffin III, about the only good thing the Redskins have had to enjoy in the last couple decades.

NFL must take action

The league has already admitted there are challenges that come with working with third parties for field management. It said so in a statement after the Hall of Fame Game situation in 2016.

But if the league had really and truly learned from that debacle, would we really have had the issue in Mexico City last year, or in Winnipeg this year? Would the league be relying on a city parks department to make sure Soldier Field is actually safe for NFL play, or trusting a Dan Snyder-led franchise to give a damn about playing surfaces and player safety?

This may have just been a preseason game, but it was yet another embarrassment for the NFL that stems from the organization either being too lazy, too negligent or both to properly monitor field conditions.

For a league that loves to beat the “player safety” drum, the NFL once again comes off looking foolish. And it’s one more issue for the NFLPA to add to its arsenal for negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.

 

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Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Comments (18)

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arthurl's picture

August 23, 2019 at 02:10 pm

I read these articles and this is another example of straight up BS. Coach said he didn’t play his starters for risk of injuries in a meaningless game. Any injuries that did occur were football plays and not caused by field conditions. There were no kickoffs which is a good thing anyway and they played 80 rather than 100 yards as a scrimmage. Lot of edge players had opportunity for evaluation.

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Ferrari Driver's picture

August 23, 2019 at 02:20 pm

Time to do away with these meaningless preseason games. Some of the teams which played their 3rd preseason game this year didn't play a single starter. The NFL owners are perpetuating these to have season ticket holders buy these bogus tickets to enhance revenue. Apparently practice sessions are more meaningful and beneficial to the teams than these preseason games. Coaches do not want to risk serious injuries to starting players which would negatively impact the season games and the fan interest in these games has waned greatly over the years as more and more starting players are withheld.

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Lare's picture

August 23, 2019 at 02:30 pm

Except for the areas around the old goalposts, the field didn't look that bad to me, Certainly no worse than stadiums in a rain or snowstorm.

That said, I think most teams are looking for any excuse they can find not to play starters in meaningless preseason games. I don't blame them, preseason games are stupid.

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Since'61's picture

August 23, 2019 at 03:28 pm

The issue with the quality of the playing field is just another example of the league and the owners not caring about the health/safety of the players.

This is a professional sport. The league and the owners should be required to provide and maintain a quality playing surface. There is no excuse except for a lack of concern on the owners part. Hopefully this will be taken up by the NFLPA during the next CBA negotiation. Make the greedy owners pay and chuck the preseason games. Thanks, Since ‘61

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RWood832's picture

August 23, 2019 at 03:35 pm

I used to think that if the NFL went to a 17 game regular season schedule, they should look to make the 17th game an away game for all teams. Play them in neutral sites throughout the US, North America and Europe. I thought it would drum up interest in non-NFL host cities and not give 16 teams the advantage of having an extra home game each season. I don't buy the idea that the 16 away teams would get the advantage back the next year - each season is its own animal. After seeing how difficult it is for some NFL stadiums and the others cited in this article look, I have changed my mind. Maybe MLB, the NBA and the NHL can play at other sites, but it would be dangerous for the NFL to, at this time or for the foreseeable future.

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Lare's picture

August 23, 2019 at 03:43 pm

I would be OK with a 17-18 game schedule with a couple of scrimmages and without any preseason games.

The NFL has shown they care nothing about player safety so all playing fields should be evaluated and decided on by teams before the games. If they're not in playing condition just cancel the game. Maybe after awhile the NFL will get tired of giving people their money back and quit scheduling games in armpit stadiums.

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Lphill's picture

August 23, 2019 at 03:36 pm

John Gruden was quoted on NFL.com complaining about the poor field conditions, after the game he claimed the field was fine and it was the Packers complaining.

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Mojo's picture

August 23, 2019 at 03:52 pm

I'm a little confused.

If the NFL has no concern for player safety, why did they cancel the Hall of Fame Game paint thing and give full refunds per this release in 2016:

"The league and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement Sunday expressing regret over the cancellation.

"Due to safety concerns with the condition of the playing surface in Canton, tonight's game between the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers has been cancelled. We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight."

David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reportedly said fans who bought tickets to the game would get a full refund, which The Associated Press said "will cost the hall several million dollars.""

And if they didn't care about player safety, why didn't they just play the Mexico game in Mexico instead of moving it to LA?

As far as last nights game they could have just said "play-on" instead of truncating the field and taking the bad areas out of play.

Does anyone believe the teams in the NFL could care less about the players safety? They produce the product. It does not benefit the owners (yes I said "owners") to have them injured, especially their star players who bring in the fans who spend the money. It makes no economic sense.

We don't live in a bubble people. Shit happens. I'm sure the NFL learned from the paint episode and will probably forbid that type of paint in the future. The goal-post thing last night was preventable. Not sure why they wouldn't have removed them much earlier and tended the grass then. Brain-farts all around. But it doesn't mean they could care less about safety.

The steps taken by the NFL due to bad field conditions actually contradicts the authors premise.

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D.D.Driver's picture

August 23, 2019 at 04:15 pm

Yeah. If anything the NFL is on the forefront of field safety. The CFL plays pro football on that turf in Winnipeg. I would bet plenty of pro soccer is played on the field in Mexico City. Etc. Etc.

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D.D.Driver's picture

August 23, 2019 at 04:16 pm

Every time I comment using my phone, it double posts....sigh...

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Lare's picture

August 23, 2019 at 05:05 pm

I disagree. If the NFL cares about player safety why did they approve the Winnipeg stadium right before the game? Why do they play on Thursday nights? Why do they play games in London requiring hours of plane flights? Why do they require teams to play on the east coast one weekend and the west coast the next? Every other sport cancels games in rainstorms & raging blizzards, why doesn't the NFL? Why do they make teams play in a terrible stadium like Soldiers Field?

One reason, because they make more money.

As I said above, they should leave it up to the teams (officials & players) and take the NFL out of the equation.

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Mojo's picture

August 23, 2019 at 05:08 pm

Hate to poke a hole in some of your logic, but "Football Outsiders" put out an article in 2017

"Do Thursday Games Cause More Injuries?"

The conclusion:

"All Injury Rates
There were no substantial differences in injury rates across different rest periods (Figure 1, blue bars). TNF and other short-rest rates were not elevated; nor were the rates after bye weeks lower, as one might hypothesize if additional rest protected against injuries.

Surprisingly, injury rates for TNF games (14.5 per 1,000 AEs, 95 percent CI 13.5-15.6) were lower than those for the typical seven-day rest period (16.1 per 1,000 AEs, 95 percent CI 15.8-16.4)."

Wow, injury rates for TNF games were actually lower. Who wouda thunk.

As far as Soldier Field, I believe the field is maintained by the Chicago Park District which probably works under a budget. I won't get into the quality of work of some public projects.

And as far as travel from one city to another, unless there's fear of the plane going down or tripping over a teammates outstretched legs, I don't see how that's a safety concern.

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CheesyTex's picture

August 23, 2019 at 08:57 pm

Mojo. The NFL did not give full refunds at the 2016 Hall of Fame game. The Hall of Fame reimbursed ticket costs only, and in some instances a motel allowance.

What was not reimbursed for fans like me (and my sons separately) was airfare, car rental, etc., or any consideration for fan inconvenience or wasted time.

I am 82 years old, a lifelong sports junkie, and have never witnessed the level of hostility in a crowd like I saw when they announced, AT GAMETIME, that the game was cancelled.

Just for the record...

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albert999's picture

August 24, 2019 at 12:27 am

How do u all not get it’s a pure money grab?
ignorant

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PackfanNY's picture

August 23, 2019 at 04:22 pm

If this is a professional league, I don’t get what the problem is. Winnipeg was scheduled what, two months ago?
Pretty simple. Create a written contract. Appoint a team representative from each team responsible for a review of the field and what they want/need for player safety. Set a date where both AND the grounds crew head do a walkthrough and identify exactly how they want the field. Next set a date, a week/a month/two weeks whatever prior to the event. Field isn’t exactly as defined then contingency plan kicks in.
If a process like this (give or take) doesn’t already exist then the NFL is lost.

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4thand1's picture

August 23, 2019 at 06:04 pm

On Ice Entertainment LTD are the grounds crew at Soldier Field.

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canadapacker's picture

August 23, 2019 at 07:53 pm

The field was ok except for a little bit of an issue where the 10 inch hole where the field goal post was removed. Come on Heinz field is a soup bowl most Sundays after a college game on he previous days. This is a relatively new field that the CFL plays on. IT was and excuse used not to play the first stringers especially after Oakland was not going to play theirs. The stupid pricing for a preseason game - thats another stupid story. I agree the NFL needs to get the whole thing under better supervision - from the field to the pricing.

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Qoojo's picture

August 24, 2019 at 10:51 am

I do not see the issue with the game. After thinking about it, who cares if a preseason game was played on a shorter field. What this game did more than anything else is drive home the fact that these games are 100% meaningless. They don't even need to keep score. Then late in the game, when the back ups faced the other backups, 95% of which will probably never make an nfl game day roster, pulled out a win...on an 80 yard field.

They might have well just timed the game and left, without bothering to keep score. The game served what little purpose it had, and that was to evaluate backups and get some practice for young players.

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