Charles P. Pierce, Sports Illustrated, December 12, 2016


This month, NJ Advance Media released the results of its six-month investigation of a company called FieldTurf which, between 2006 and '12, peddled artificial playing surfaces made of something called DuraSpine to school districts and parks commissions. These things cost somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 apiece, and a great deal of the money came from the taxpayers of various municipalities. And the fields themselves wound up having the basic durability of mashed potatoes. Further, the investigation revealed that the company knew they were selling a defective product and kept, well, selling it.

Football players had all of those problems plus the fact that their jobs required that they periodically be slammed down onto this surface, or jump on it, or get caught at the bottom of a pile of other football players. In addition, there cropped up an entirely new injury called metatarsophalangeal joint sprain, or Turf Toe, that one day will be categorized with the famous ice-hockey “gunk” in some future atlas of ancient sports-specific health concerns.

And that’s not even talking about, ah, cancer.

One of the ingredients in modern artificial turf was what was called “crumb rubber,” the ground-up remains of recycled tires, a suspected carcinogen. There is substantial anecdotal evidence that playing sports on this particular type of artificial surface makes you vulnerable to various kinds of cancer; it is often noted that four members of the Philadelphia Phillies who played at Veterans Stadium all developed brain cancer and died. There’s currently an ongoing investigation of the link between artificial turf and cancer being conducted by the EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.                        

Now in its eighth year, the surface at Highland Park may still be green, but it behaves like a grass field choked by an August drought. The fibers have cracked, split, frayed and become matted across a thinning playing field. Those were the conditions of hundreds of fields across the country that FieldTurf, the self-proclaimed leader in artificial turf, has deemed defective. According to company officials, the turf—known as Duraspine—was not made properly by their supplier to withstand UV radiation. That caused the grass fibers to prematurely deteriorate, sometimes in as little as two to three years.