The NFL has been working with helmet manufacturers for months to try to come up with protective facemasks that players can wear on the field this season that would help to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 during the course of their carrying out their jobs, which generally consists of smashing one body into another body.
Transmission of a virus is most easily done through the incidental gestation of the saliva of an infected person, regardless of whether that person is symptomatic, asymptomatic, or pre-symptomatic. Anybody who has ever played football, myself included, is aware that particles of spit may be dislodged from your mouth when you’re hit by a large person, or hit into another person, often at full speed or acceleration.
“If people are in such close contact as football players are on every single play, then that’s the perfect set up for spreading”, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Peter King back in May about football. “I would think that if there is an infected football player on the field—a middle linebacker, a tackle, whoever it is it—as soon as they hit the next guy, the chances are that they will be shedding virus all over that person”.
In other words, it is pretty difficult even under the best of circumstances to mitigate the risk of transferring spittle from one person participating in a football game to another. That’s what the league is hoping that a specially-designed mask, which they have been developing for months, can help to do, but even that isn’t a guarantee.
And players are concerned about how it will affect them on the field. Dan Graziano wrote on Thursday for ESPN that an NFLPA conference call included an update about the masks, and those players who were on the call had reservations.
“They also were updated on the progress league and union medical personnel are making on protective face shields that could be worn while playing, practicing, working out and moving around team facilities”, he wrote, “though sources who were on the call said the players are pushing back against those face shields for various reasons, including concerns about how it might affect their vision and their breathing”.
Of course we haven’t seen these facemasks, and don’t know how much they would differ from the sorts of facemasks that many players already wear. But it seems like good policy to have something that helps to shield a player’s eyes, mouth, and nose, the primary avenues of infection.
Whatever is necessary to get underway is what is necessary. On the one hand, players are expressing concerns about how they will even be able to play football under the suggested protocols. On the other, players are expressing concerns about whether or not it’s safe to play at all. And frankly, neither of those questions have been satisfactorily answered yet.