For years professional football players, their attorneys, and even their fans have argued the patchwork “pallet system” turf at NRG Stadium, which has composed the playing surface for the Houston Texans since the team's inception in 2002, is dangerously flawed. In 2012 former Texans punter Brett Hartmann sued the entities that run NRG Stadium (SMG and Harris County), claiming that during a 2011 game against the Atlanta Falcons he stepped into a deep groove between grass pallets. Hartmann's resulting “no-contact injury” was a torn knee and a broken leg.
There's reason to believe that same turf system—1,400 eight-foot-square trays of grass assembled and deconstructed by grounds crews before and after each game—may very well have ended Jadeveon Clowney's rookie season before it even began. With three minutes to go in the first half of the Texans' season opener last year, Clowney landed awkwardly after he jumped to knock down a pass. Here's what safety D.J. Swearinger told the NFL Network after Clowney's season-ending knee injury: “He told me on the field when it happened, he was just like, 'Bro, I just jumped, came down and hit one of the holes on the field' … There are a few holes in the grass, so he said he thought he stepped on one of those holes and got hurt."
On Friday, Texans general manager Rick Smith announced the team will play on an artificial turf system for the remainder of the season. “Our players have always enjoyed playing on natural grass here,” Smith said in a prepared statement posted to the Texans' website. “But it's our responsibility at the club level as well as the League level to protect them from risk.”
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It's a risk that's been apparent nearly every time players have taken the field at NRG Stadium, something fans comment on during and after virtually every game. In fact, Smith's announcement comes less than a week after officials with the Kansas City Chiefs complained about the field's condition after last weekend's season opener, according to ESPN.
The real question is why it took the Texans so long to acknowledge and address that risk.