NFLPA's Howell tackles field issues, gambling and more in his first state of the union address
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers’ issues with their practice fields at the Super Bowl gave the NFL Players Association an opportunity to highlight players’ desire for grass fields across the league.
NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell emphasized the importance of installing grass fields, discussed modifications to the league’s gambling policy, dismissed consideration to eliminate the hip-drop tackle and more in his first state of the union address since moving into the role eight months ago.
“The one issue where there was unanimous commentary was, ‘At the end of the day, I want to play on the highest quality grass surface,’” Howell said Wednesday in a nearly 90-minute news conference inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
An NFLPA survey revealed that 92% of players prefer to play on high-quality grass, 6% percent were indifferent between grass and synthetic turf, and most of the 2% who prefer synthetic turf are kickers.
“Grass fields have a lower injury rate,” Howell said. “A difference in what kind of chronic pain they’ll be in for the rest of their lives.”
Of the 30 stadiums used by the NFL's 32 teams, 15 have artificial turf and 15 have grass or hybrid grass, which is natural turf reinforced with synthetic fibers. The league doesn’t have a specific regulation on the type of surfaces teams use and there are various types of each.
The argument for grass is that it's softer and prevents injuries. The NFL has defended the use of artificial turf, pointing to 2021 when the numbers for injuries on both surfaces were close.
“Turf has stayed relatively consistent at an injury rate over the last decade,” NFLPA president JC Tretter said. “Grass this year has its highest injury rate over the last decade, but it was still lower than the injury rate on turf. So, the worst performing year on grass is still better than turf this year.”
NFL owners whose stadiums will be used for the 2026 World Cup are planning to install grass fields on top of the synthetic turf fields just for the tournament.
The league believes owners should invest resources necessary to ensure their players are playing on the highest-quality surface.
The 49ers this week complained the natural grass placed on top of UNLV’s field turf was too soft. Tretter said plastic was supposed to be put on top of the synthetic turf before the grass was installed.
“Hopefully we’ve gotten to a workable condition, but the mere fact that you’re asking the question in our biggest event means that this is an issue,” Howell said.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Howell and members of the union’s executive committee adamantly oppose the NFL’s consideration of eliminating the hip-drop tackle.
League executive Jeff Miller said in October that the hip-drop tackle increases risk of injury by 25 times the rate of a standard tackle and the NFL’s competition committee is expected to consider banning it.
“A lot of rules that were put in place over the last 10-plus years that made the game a lot safer were big adjustments for players,” Falcons defensive linemen Calais Campbell said. “I feel like this particular rule change, I don’t understand how you can police it the right way and allow us to do our job.”
Even running back Austin Ekeler, who would benefit from a ban of the tackle, doesn’t want to see that happen.
“There’s multiple levels that I think that it compromises the quality of play. To the fact where I’m like, are they really serious about this?” Ekeler said. “Because this is a distraction because it just seems so ridiculous to me that this is something that they’re really putting on the table.
“I know especially my body gets twisted and turned, and I’m all over the place, and it’s because you kind of lay out, you’re at full speed, both guys are going with a lot of energy. Your body is gonna end up in different types of places and different types of situations. I just think it’s, I think it’s honestly detrimental to the game that you try to move forward with it.”
GAMBLING IN VEGAS
The league and the union agreed to lift a ban on gambling for players from the Chiefs and 49ers after the Super Bowl. They will be permitted to gamble in casinos once the game is over.
“It only makes common sense that when the business of football is done, that the guys have the opportunity to partake of what Las Vegas has to offer,” Howell said. “So, you may have seen policy change to that effect, which we’re happy certainly to make. It’s common sense.”
Campbell received the 2024 Alan Page Community Award for his long-standing work and commitment to giving back.
The NFLPA will donate $100,000 to Campbell’s CRC Foundation.
“Alan Page’s legacy reaches much further than football – it’s one of serving others, furthering education and advancing justice,” Campbell said. “I’ve been blessed to enjoy 16 years in the National Football League, and I hope to leave a fraction of the impact in the communities I’ve played in as he had on his. He is an inspiration, and I am completely grateful and honored to be mentioned alongside him and to receive the 2024 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award.”
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