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Rodgers, NFL players urge league to nix turf, go with grass

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/new-york-jets-carolina-panthers-nfl-sports-aaron-rodgers-1d22c7efbe62ff9d58d1df1a1f45ee47

Aaron Rodgers has hit the ground in every NFL stadium except one. And while the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field has delivered its share of bumps and bruises, the venues with artificial turf have been even rougher on Rodgers’ nearly 39-year-old body.

“I do think it’s time to go all grass throughout the league,” the four-time MVP said Tuesday, echoing a growing sentiment that’s become a major talking point around the NFL.

Players Association President JC Tretter called on six venues to immediately change their playing surfaces last weekend, saying the artificial turf in those stadiums results in higher injury rates when comparing non-contact injuries and lower extremity injuries like sprained ankles and torn knee ligaments.

Players from Seattle to Miami, from New England to Los Angeles, have loudly backed Tretter. Rodgers, Green Bay’s 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has played in every stadium except Las Vegas, thinks there’s a way for the league to pivot to grass quickly.

“A lot of money in this league,” he said. “It’s about cost. I don’t know how much that would cost. … But the league’s been doing pretty well.”

Does Rodgers think it will get done?

“No, honestly,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to the league making that decision without some sort of big vote and gripes from certain owners who don’t want to spend the money. … This would be putting your money where your mouth is if player safety is important.”

The NFL hasn’t acknowledged a need for new sod. Jeff Miller, the executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy for the NFL, said in a statement Saturday that injury rates are approximately the same on grass and turf.

The data provided by the league did not distinguish between the three types of turf used: monofilament, dual fiber and slit film. Tretter specifically took exception with the slit-film surfaces used in Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans and New York.

Players parroted Tretter’s plea, and even a few coaches have joined the push.

“I prefer natural grass,” Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I’ve listened to all the studies, density studies, I’ve seen all the different compounds they’ve put in there. I still like grass.”

Most players do, too.

“You kind of feel the difference when you’re running,” Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said. “If we can fix it, let’s fix it. Let’s get the safest atmosphere for us to go play in.”

Added Detroit receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown: “I do prefer playing on grass. It’s more forgiving, more natural, and it just feel it’s better. It feels better on my joints, my ankles and whatnot.”

Jacksonville Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins called artificial turf the equivalent of playing in a parking lot, saying “I’m getting slammed on the concrete. It doesn’t feel good.”

Carolina Panthers tight end Tommy Tremble watched teammate Donte Jackson tear an Achilles tendon at home — the latest in a rash of season-ending injuries sustained on turf.

“Guys get terrible injuries from that stuff,” Tremble said. “I get the usability of it, but this is a billion-dollar business, and I think where we should put the money into should be for the players because if we got grass fields and can keep playing, the money keeps rolling in. You see star guys go down all of the time because of it.”

The Panthers already have urged owner David Tepper to switch to grass in the offseason. Sure, it costs more in the long run, but technology advancements have made grass fields more tolerant to every condition seen in the NFL: heat, cold, humidity and dryness. Two indoor venues — in Arizona and Las Vegas — have grass fields that can be rolled into the sun.

Fourteen of the NFL’s 30 venues still use a version of synthetic turf. The Hellas Matrix Turf used in Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles is widely considered the best. It’s created using a textured and twisted monofilament fiber.

Slit film, meanwhile, has sliced strands that form a honeycomb shape. It holds up well to frequent use, but the concern is whether cleats are getting caught in the honeycombs.

“They don’t have a bad field in this league, but there are better fields,” New York Giants safety Julian Love said. “There is a type of turf that has proven to be better. We happen to play on the lowest turf in the league, so you want to see those standards go up.”

Switching from artificial turf to grass would be expensive, as Rodgers suggested. It would cost roughly $500,000 for demolition, new rock underlayment and irrigation (drainage could be reused) and another $350,000 for lay-and-play sod. Cold-weather teams, including those playing indoors, would be lucky if the new grass lasted a month before needing to be resodded.

A potential compromise would be placing thick-cut sod on top of the fake stuff and swapping it out a few times over the course of a football season.

Any tweak would be a welcome relief for most players.

“I do know that after having surgery, and when I go out there and play on turf fields, it’s different,” Cincinnati Bengals nose tackle D.J. Reader said. “It’s a lot more pounding. I get a lot more achy after games.”

Tretter, a longtime NFL center who played in Green Bay and Cleveland, began his anti-artificial turf campaign two years ago after San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and players expressed concern about the MetLife Stadium turf in New Jersey.

Defensive end Nick Bosa, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive tackle Solomon Thomas and running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman all suffered game-ending lower-body injuries that day.

Thomas, coincidentally, now plays for the Jets. He was among the many calling for immediate change.

“No one knows the beating that our bodies take on turf more than us — the players,” Thomas posted on Twitter. “The sport is violent enough. We shouldn’t be taking more damage from the field, too.”

All those 49ers injuries prompted a review involving representatives from the NFL, NFLPA, MetLife Stadium, the Jets, the Giants, the turf maker and an independent field inspector. They concluded that the field met all applicable standards and protocols for NFL surfaces.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday night, MetLife Stadium announced its field surface will be replaced before next season — but not with grass.

“We evaluate our field each season and historically have replaced our playing surface every 3-4 years,” the statement said. “We have made the decision to replace the field in 2023 and are currently reviewing proposals from multiple vendors for a new synthetic surface.”

NJ Advance Media and ESPN first reported the planned changes at MetLife Stadium.

Two years after beginning his campaign, Tretter — now with players like Rodgers standing behind him — insists the standards need to be raised around the NFL.

“As players, we have a simple message for the league: stop with the lip service, stop with the media spin, stop pretending you care,” he said. “And if you actually do care, take the actionable steps to fix the problems our union has identified, especially those issues you actually agree with.”

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, Kyle Hightower, Larry Lage, Brett Martel, Steve Megargee, Charles Odum, Steve Reed, Andrew Seligman, Dave Skretta, Mitch Stacy, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/new-york-jets-carolina-panthers-nfl-sports-aaron-rodgers-1d22c7efbe62ff9d58d1df1a1f45ee47

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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