This topic is treacherous. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.
Recently, a friend asked me what I thought about ESPN’s recent “E:60” investigative report discussing the “links” between cancer and crumb-rubber infill on synthetic fields. This friend of mine is not in the sports turf business. She is a former athlete, who knows I work for a magazine that covers sports fields. She saw the “E:60” episode and was curious of my opinion on the subject.
When I saw her message, I breathed in deeply. And then exhaled slowly. I did this because, like I mentioned above, this is a treacherous topic. So I thought long, hard and carefully (very carefully) about how I was going to respond. I actually wrote a couple different drafts before I was satisfied with my answer. I read it over one last time and then — finally — sent her what I had wrote. I sat back, and allowed myself a few minutes to reflect on the topic and how I responded to her inquiry.
What I emphasized most in my response to my friend was this — we, as in the sports turf industry, need to do more research on this troubling subject. Cancer is not a matter to be taken lightly, no matter what side of the argument you may find yourself on. The sports turf industry should also welcome any additional testing that the government, industry businesses or any independent research firms want to do.
A topic of this level of sensitivity and magnitude needs as much research, data and studies compiled as humanly possible.
Here’s a fact: there have been several tests done to verify the safety of crumb-rubber infill. We’ve written about a few of them in SportsField Management magazine. We’ve published the results of tests and studies that say that there is zero reliable evidence that crumb-rubber infill causes cancer. These tests and studies were done by established and credible doctors, both in the medical field and in academia. This is our job as writers and editors, to report both sides of the coin. And at SportsField Management, we’ve done a good job of this, in my opinion.
But then you have reports like the “E:60” episode. Or the report NBC did last year, the one that originally set these wheels in motion. These reports are seen by the masses, and the masses — scared by what they watch and hear — then take to social media to discuss and spread the flames, for lack of a better term. In 2015, that’s how things are done in this world.
Much like the original NBC report, ESPN, which played up frightening imagery and heartbreaking accounts of deaths by cancer, didn’t reach one definitive conclusion about crumb rubber’s link to cancer. What it did was shed some much-needed light on the startling lack of in-depth clinical research on the matter. And that’s exactly what my point here is. More research needs to happen. More dollars need to be spent. More long-term tests need to be run.
The other point I wanted to make here is that I believe what’s been happening — the public furor about this topic — is not fair to the synthetic sports turf industry. As long as the leaders in the industry continue to be open to research and tests, we’ll one day hopefully have a definitive answer, and solution to this firestorm. After all, player safety, in all facets, is paramount to every sports field manager.
Let’s put the really intelligent people to work — people like industry experts, doctors, scientists, researchers and professors.
Let’s make sure all the sides of the debate are heard and let’s not let TV reports scare us into believing what they want us to believe.
Let’s be smart, knowledgeable and informed before we give an opinion.
Let’s make certain a large segment of our industry isn’t being unfairly portrayed.
Let’s continue to make safety the most important priority.