If you’re a sports field manager and not constantly hearing about field safety issues, you’d have to be living in a soundproof, airtight cave nowhere near society.
From the NBC and ESPN reports on alleged links between crumb-rubber infill in synthetic turf and cancer, to the increased public and media awareness regarding concussions, to the recently released film titled “Concussion” starring Will Smith, to professional athletes blaming injuries of all kinds on poor turf, the topic of safety is at the forefront of seemingly any conversation about this industry.
And that’s perfectly fine.
Parents should be concerned about the safety of the surfaces their children play on. Athletes at any level should be concerned about the safety of the surfaces they play on. Field managers, at every level, recognize these concerns. In fact, any field manager worth his or her weight in salt not only recognizes this recent uptake in public interest about safety, but also will say that safety has always been a top priority, long before the national media took interest. Veterans of this industry understand that field safety isn’t just some fad.
Here’s the view from my seat: Safety is always going to be a priority for field managers, even more so as we move forward, and this industry is in good hands with regard to continual improvements and advancements in athletic field safety.
This was evident at January’s Sports Turf Managers Association Conference & Exhibition. Countless presentations and discussions promoted field safety and explained academic research being done on the subject.
For example, Dr. Richard Kent of the University of Virginia reviewed the ongoing research and evaluation studies being performed by the NFL Foot & Ankle Committee. The research includes shoe traction and bending behaviors, turf mechanics and the biomechanics of foot and ankle injuries.
There was a discussion around the efforts of those who have worked since 2011 to prevent the passage of legislative bills designed to ban synthetic pesticides on scholastic sports fields and grounds of municipal, county and state park sports fields in New Jersey. Rich Watson, from Deptford (New Jersey) Township, and certified sports field manager Scott Bills, of Sports Field Solutions, shared how they’ve successfully educated New Jersey legislators that enacting a law eliminating certain sports field management techniques will have dire consequences on playing field performance.
Dr. Timothy Gay of the University of Nebraska presented on the fact that, while many injuries in sports are caused by turf, the careful design and installation of a playing surface can reduce these injuries significantly.
I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel of industry experts, which included sports field safety expert Dr. John Sorochan of the University of Tennessee, where the topic of safety came up countless times during our two-hour discussion. One of the points that particularly stuck with me was made by Patrick Coakley, CSFM, the sports turf superintendent at Ripken Baseball. When talking about heightened public awareness on field safety and how that has possibly increased expectations for sports turf managers, Coakley said that he’s “concerned when parents don’t ask about the safety of the playing surfaces in which their kids are playing on.” That statement says a lot about where the industry is when it comes to safety.
There’s exciting new research about athletic field safety being done at places like the University of Tennessee, Iowa State University, Penn State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Nebraska and many other schools with excellent turf programs.
As you can see, the industry’s in good hands. Safety research and studies need to continue. The flow of knowledge must remain steady. The more we all know, the better.