The debate over artificial turf in professional sports generally takes a familiar form, with people arguing over turf’s effect on the way the game is played and the injury risk it poses to athletes. But recent news out of Philadelphia has taken the debate over artificial turf and player health in a new and unsettling direction. An investigative report from The Philadelphia Inquirer explored the connection between the artificial turf the team used for years at Veterans Stadium and the deaths from cancer of six former Phillies who played for the team during that time.
An article at The Guardian offers more context, and points to an all-too-familiar potential culprit: toxic PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” The artificial turf used at Veterans Stadium contained forever chemicals — though it seems unlikely that scientists will be able to make a direct connection between the artificial turf and the subsequent cancer diagnoses.
Still, something seems suspicious here. “There is a high number of Philadelphia Phillies diagnosed with this rare cancer and it looks weird, so that should be a red flag,” Kyla Bennett of the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility told The Guardian.
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It’s also difficult to look at the statistics and not thing something’s awry. The Guardian‘s reporting notes that a total of six former Phillies died while in their 40s or 50s, which is much higher than the expected mortality rate. It seems like the time is right for a larger-scale study, whether by an outside agency or a group like the Major League Baseball Players Association. The Phillies weren’t the only baseball team to use a turf field, after all — and the concept that this could be the tip of something much larger can’t be discounted.