Certainly, entering Week 2’s game in Atlanta on Sunday, there was no special reason why Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari should have sat out. Bakhtiari has a persistent knee injury—three surgeries in two years will do that—that has kept him from practicing with the team all season. That means he is questionable to play every week, and it’s something the Packers just know they’ve got to deal with.
But still … Bakhtiari, a five-time Pro Bowl player, was excellent in Week 1 and appeared to be on pace to start as usual this week. There was even some bubbling hope that maybe this would prove to be a relatively normal year for Bakhtiari, who played 11 games last season after registering just one the previous year.
Instead, Bakhtiari was a scratch on Sunday and the Packers had to start Rasheed Walker, who entered the game with two previous games of experience in his career, at left tackle.
Now, there is speculation in this, but running conspiracy theory goes that Bakhtiari sat out on Sunday because Atlanta plays on a turf field, and Bakhtiari has been outspokenly anti-turf on social media, especially since his good friend Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon in an injury many blame on the MetLife Field artificial turf.
That theory was floated to Packers coach Matt LaFleur after the game, but he shut it down before the question could be posed. “No,” LaFleur said addressing the media. “We all know that Dave’s been dealing with this and so, no.”
Meme Runs Wild
LaFleur, as has been his policy all season, is not going to get into back-and-forths about Bakhtiari, and that was the case on Sunday.
But it was of interest to those buying into the conspiracy tale that Bakhtiari’s brother, Eric Bakhtiari, posted a well-known meme on Twitter in response to a report from NFL insider Ian Rapoport about Bakhtiari being out on Sunday. The meme features a man in front of a white board with a graph comparing “f*** around” on one axis and “find out” on the other.
The implication seemed to be that the league is messing with players by not installing natural grass on all playing surfaces, and the league is also “finding out” that players don’t want to play on them anymore.
The problem for Packers fans, if the conspiracy theory around Bakhtiari’s absence is true, is that while his moral stand on turf might be admirable in the long term, it is helping to cost the Packers wins in the short term. The team was hit especially hard on the left side by the injury to guard Elgton Jenkins, who suffered a knee injury during the Falcons loss.
Reporter Matt Schneidman of The Athletic wrote on Monday that there could be more long-term concern here, too: “Bakhtiari might not play on any of the four remaining turf surfaces on Green Bay’s schedule — the Detroit Lions in Week 12, the New York Giants in Week 14, the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 and the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17 — if his DNP Sunday is any indication of what’s to come on similar fields.”
Bakhtiari Loudly Against Turf
No doubt, Bakhtiari’s anger about the NFL’s turf situation is real, and he has been pushing the issue on Twitter since Rodgers’ injury.
He wrote last week: “Congrats @nfl. How many more players have to get hurt on ARTIFICIAL TURF??! You care more about soccer players than us. You plan to remove all artificial turf for the World Cup coming up. So clearly it’s feasible. I’m sick of this..Do better!”
Still not finished, Bakhtiari added another tweet: “WTF!!!! That injury is TURF related. Can we put an end to this sh** already?”
Many players agree with Bakhtiari’s sentiments on turf vs. grass, but few can do anything about it. Because of his unique injury situation, Bakhtiari can do something about it—he can sit out turf games. And maybe that’s just what he did on Sunday.