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Part of being an NFL coach involves making tough decisions. Sometimes these choices have little to do with the game itself. Perhaps more than any other season, 2020 has had its share of issues requiring coaches to rise to the occasion from addressing Black Lives Matter to facing the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how the NFL handled the issue of wearing masks.

Seeing the (green) light

The 2020 season got the greenlight back in July. Everyone agreed to the NFL-NFLPA Game Day Protocol, a set of guidelines to ensure a safe season. These are intended to guard the health of all parties involved and lower their risks of contracting or spreading COVID-19. With these protocols, all coaches on the sideline must wear some sort of mask, gaiter, or face shield.

Though it sounds like a reasonable request, it turned into quite a contentious issue. NFL sidelines are already chaotic. It’s understandable that since masks cover mouths and interfere with communication, they won’t be anybody’s favorite — particularly not coaches.  

The Atlantic reports that some coaches are adapting to wearing face masks; others claim it’s too restrictive. They’ve either complained about the requirement or ignored it entirely. Those who choose not to comply learn the hard way.

One week after Executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent warned teams about not wearing masks at all times in bench areas, the league cracked down. As of late September, the NFL has already reportedly issued more than $1 million in fines. The Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers all received $250,000 fines. Those teams’ head coaches, Vic Fangio, Kyle Shanahan, and Pete Carroll, received a $100,000 fine each.

NFL coaches wear masks

The Steelers' Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks with Ben Roethlisberger | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, virtually everyone is required to mask up outside of the house. Anyone who’s had to pursue work or leisure while wearing a face mask can sympathize with how these coaches may feel. However, feelings don’t change the reality of a global pandemic or the serious matter of NFL regulations.

Infectious disease experts helped develop the NFL-NFLPA Game Day Protocol. Set in place to promote health and safety, these measures will prove ineffective unless followed by everyone involved. 

The NFL moves forward 


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Of course, there’s already talk about abandoning the face mask rule, particularly for coaches. The reasoning behind this argument is that when the mask rule was first developed, players and coaches were only being tested three times per week, leaving gaps during which they could potentially spread the virus asymptomatically.

Now, with daily testing available to players and coaches alike, the danger of direct transmission has dropped dramatically, eliminating the need for masks. At least, that’s what some people think.

At this point, arguing about the mask rule feels unproductive. For those who feel they’re too restrictive for coaching, they could always take a page out of Andy Reid’s book and try a clear face shield. No need to attach it to your hat precisely like he does. But do learn from his early mistakes and invest in some built-in defogging.