It's certainly been a good week for player safety in the NFL. On Monday, the league and players' union announced that concussions would start being taken more seriously following a string of incidents last season where teams rushed potentially concussed players back on the field without a proper examination. Teams can now be fined and stripped of draft picks for violating concussion protocols. Obviously, this doesn't solve everything, but it shows the league is growing a spine and sort of giving a damn about concussions.
Another important and much less publicized development was the announcement of a committee responsible for assessing the condition and shape of playing surfaces around the league.
"This offseason the NFL and NFLPA established the Field Surface & Performance Committee, a joint committee to provide advice and guidance regarding the safety, performance and testing of non-NFL game day and practice surfaces. 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."
The agreement also adds that an NFLPA-appointed field consultant will "will be granted equal access to all NFL playing fields and field test results." This also includes venues where NFL games aren't usually held, such as London, Mexico City, and Canton's Fawcett Stadium.
While the joint agreement was a little vague on the repercussions for a team whose field isn't up to par, one stipulation was clear. By the eighth game of this season, "every stadium that hosts an NFL game has to be played in a venue with standard safety wall padding and a surface surrounding the field that is safe for players." This specific policy is obviously in reaction to the incidents at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, where running back Reggie Bush tore his ACL after slipping on concrete that surrounded the field.
At the same stadium, quarterback Josh McCown also managed to face plant against the wall. Other stadiums across the league have also gained a reputation for being occupational hazards. Chicago's Solider Field and Houston's NRG Stadium have both claimed their fair share of knee injuries over the years thanks to sketchy playing surfaces.
actual image of Solider Field grass.
Closer to home, Ravens fans may also remember when the field at the brand new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara gave way during a Justin Tucker kick. It's incidents like these that the committee is setting out to prevent.
While I've got my qualms about how effective this committee will be, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Ultimately, establishing a strict set of codes about playing surfaces would be the best thing for everyone. Soccer's governing body, FIFA, has done just that with their Quality Concept for Football Turf requirements, a 39-page book that lays out the law for playing surfaces. FIFA is composed of leagues and teams all across the globe in many different and diverse climate zones, so it doesn't make much sense why the NFL couldn't do such a thing with only a relatively small geographic area to account for.
Then again, this is the NFL we're talking about. We're only just getting around to punishing teams for sending out concussed players. This sort of change and cooperation with the union is pretty unprecedented alone. Hopefully, the formation of this committee will be the beginning of the end of field-related injuries.