Field Turf is not a financially sound and equitable solution for Loudoun County’s shortage of athletic fields. Conventional thinking states that Field Turf does not need to be maintained regularly like natural grass so it will be cheaper over time. Conventional thinking also states that Field Turf is more resistant to weather so more games can be played on Field Turf than natural grass. Both of these assertions are false.
*Note that throughout this article, I will use “Field Turf” as a generic term for artificial turf that looks like synthetic grass. Field Turf is actually a brand of artificial turf just like how Kleenex is a brand of tissue. Astroturf is an obsolete brand of artificial turf that looks like carpet.
Field Turf is not Fiscally Conservative
Yes, Field Turf has a very high initial cost that can go over $1 million for high schools. However, many people see Field Turf as a fiscally conservative solution because the lower maintenance costs will allow the playing surface to be cheaper over time compared to natural grass. Field Turf would also be cheaper per event as more events can be hosted without cutting, re-sodding, and re-painting natural grass.
The reality is that Field Turf, if properly maintained to the highest standards, will not be cheaper than natural grass. Sure you don’t have to mow Field Turf, but you have to take care of it in other ways. Field Turf is not natural grass so natural, biodegradable substances do not get absorbed into the ground. Blood, sweat, tears, snot, vomit, and poop (hopefully just dog poop, not human poop) just stays on Field Turf without getting absorbed like natural grass. I have seen fields that are not properly cleaned up after these everyday incidents. Anti-microbial protection wears out over time and cannot defend against these natural occurrences from sports.
That is just gross. Artificial turf must be cleaned and disinfected regularly just like how natural grass needs to be cut, re-sodded, and re-painted regularly. Otherwise, artificial turf becomes a breeding ground for a variety of diseases. Turf burns that result from skin abrasions with artificial turf can lead to diseases. This has been documented. Artificial turf ends up being just as expensive if not more expensive than natural grass.
Artificial turf can be cheaper than natural grass if administrators skimp on maintenance. This causes even more problems. Under the illusion that Field Turf can withstand more events, they don’t properly maintain the playing surface like they should. Sometimes, they just don’t want to pay for the maintenance. I have seen Field Turf playing surfaces that are littered with sunflower seeds and not cleaned up for games. Without regular cleanup, disinfecting, and quality control, Field Turf will be more expensive than natural grass, guaranteed because the lifespan of the playing surface will diminish. Replacement is very expensive.
Yes, you have to “water” Field Turf just like natural grass for safety and health reasons. There is no financial benefit to Field Turf and for those of that ideological persuasion, Field Turf is not “fiscally conservative” because it does not pay for itself and then some after a huge initial investment. Saving money by hosting more events and not maintaining upkeep of Field Turf will prove to be much more expensive over the long haul as the playing surface must be replaced sooner.
Field Turf is not Equitable
Is Field Turf fair and just for all stakeholders? Field Turf is not a just solution for taxpayers. It is also not a just solution for players and the game.
For the players, Field Turf sponsored research, which should already flagged for bias, claims that Field Turf cuts down on many injuries like concussions. This is highly debatable, but even if such research was true, Field Turf presents other issues that cancels out the benefit. Knee injuries and turf toe can be debilitating injuries that have a higher occurrence on artificial turf than on natural grass.
Heat strokes are another issue that Field Turf presents. Step onto any Field Turf playing surface in the summer time. It feels much hotter than natural grass. It also smells like burning rubber. It smells like burning rubber because it is burning rubber.
The synthetic grass fibers have rubber infill made out of recycled tires. This infill is designed to give the playing surface a cushion. This rubber infill has also been questioned for having lead content along with the paint.
Heat is already a safety issue for summer sporting events. Field Turf exacerbates the situation by raising on-field temperatures above over the air temperatures. Temperatures on artificial turf can be up to 86.5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than natural grass.
Artificial turf is also bad for the environment. It disrupts the migratory pattern of birds and destroys all the organisms that live on or beneath the natural surface that is replaced. Once artificial turf has been installed, it is difficult to go back to natural grass because the soil has been ripped out and replaced with a fake.
Finally, Field Turf subtracts from the charm and mystique of the games played upon them. Chiefly, football is most affected negatively. Real football is meant to be played in all conditions. Torrential downpours, blistering blizzards, muddy fields, and ice all add character to a game that demands excellence in the face of all adversity.
When I played football in 8th grade, one of my fondest memories of the experience was practicing in the rain and mud. These were the conditions that would require switching to the longest cleats (1 in.) which I would have done if I wore detachable cleats instead of the standard entry-level molded Nike Land Sharks that every growing kid wears just to play the game. At first, you avoided the mud puddles as you walked out to the practice field, but one you made a tackle or got tackled, you threw caution to wind and rain and just let it loose. Mud would cover your entire uniform and kids would dare each other to dive into mud puddles for absolutely no reason other than for laughs. People say we should “let kids be kids.” This is what I think about when people say, “let kids be kids.” Natural grass is organic unlike artificial turf so proper hygiene and parenting skills will prevent the onset of staph infections and other illnesses from playing football in the mud and the social and character benefits are great.
Let kids be kids. Play football on natural grass.