The NFL really doesn’t want its players to catch the coronavirus, but it also really wants to make billions of dollars from a full-contact sport in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. So in the half-hearted name of health and safety, the league is rolling out a new toy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on the field: a mouth shield.
The brainchild of doctors and engineers from the NFL and NFL Players Association, ESPN reports that the Oakley Mouth Shield attaches to the face guard and uses plastic sheets to prevent the transmission of droplets. Players aren’t required to wear the mouth shield yet, but the NFL’s team of medical experts are keeping their fingers crossed that it will soon become mandated.
“That’s certainly what we’re going to encourage,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told ESPN. “And we hope that we’re going to land on a product design that’s something that everyone would want to wear, because they’ll see the value and want that additional protection without any detriment to performance.”
Ummmmm about that detriment to performance…Despite Sillis’ assertions that players will be able to still perform at a high level, they don’t exactly seem keen on the idea of having their airflow restricted on the field.
“My second year in the league I thought it’d be cool, I put a visor on my helmet,” five-time All-Pro J.J. Watt told ProFootballTalk. “I was like, ‘It looks so cool, I wanna put a visor on.’ I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, ‘Take this sucker off—I’m gonna die out here.’ [...] So now you’re gonna put something around my mouth? You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don’t think you’re gonna see me on the field.”
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon said pretty much the same thing on Twitter.
“Y’all might as well have a pump of sanitizers coming out of our uniforms too while y’all at it,” he tweeted. “I won’t wear it.”
Sure, the mouth shield could reduce the likelihood of coronavirus transmission, but how ridiculous does that sound considering players will already be doing everything but social distancing while tackling each other for hours at a time? This line of thinking is exactly why players had a similar response to the NFL’s announcement that exchanging jerseys after games would be prohibited this upcoming season.
“Players can go engage in a full contact game and do it safely,” Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman tweeted. “However, it is deemed unsafe for them to exchange jerseys after said game.”
This idea is a head-scratcher for sure, considering NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer has already called football “probably the perfect milieu or petri dish in which to transmit the virus,” but the NFL is moving forward with its plan to distribute mouth shields to all 32 teams within the next week anyway.