The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL coaches have to wear masks. Players (mostly) don’t. Here’s why.

Saints Coach Sean Payton shirked his mask for much of Monday night's game against the Raiders. The NFL fined him $100,000. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the use of face coverings to be crucial in attempts to slow the novel coronavirus pandemic, recommending that “people wear masks in public and when around people who don’t live in your household.” Yet if you turned on the television to watch the nationally televised NFL games on Sunday or Monday night, you were greeted by the sight of coaches — specifically Seattle’s Pete Carroll, New Orleans’s Sean Payton and Las Vegas’s Jon Gruden — most definitely not following that advice, either pulling down their masks when talking to people or simply not wearing them at all.

The NFL this week fined all three of the above coaches along with San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and Denver’s Vic Fangio for shirking their masks on the sideline in their Week 2 games, and coaches’ use of masks has been a topic of conversation all week in the run-up to the Week 3 games. Here are the issues at play when it comes to NFL coaches and their masks.

What is the NFL’s rule on sideline masks?

Under pandemic protocols developed by the NFL and its players during the offseason, all coaches on the sideline “must wear either a mask, neck gaiter, and/or face shield.” There are no exceptions listed.

Does this apply to the players?

Only for games in Orchard Park, N.Y. (home of the Buffalo Bills) and Santa Clara, Calif. (home of the San Francisco 49ers), where local restrictions require the players to wear masks on the sideline. Otherwise, NFL rules state that players who are not substituting into the game only are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks.

Why aren’t most players required to wear masks?

Allen Sills, the NFL’s top medical officer, said last week on the NFL Network that masks are a way to keep teams’ most talkative employees — coaches on the sideline — from spreading the virus should they be infected and not realize it.

“As we’ve said all along, the tests are not what keep us safe,” Sills told the NFL Network. “The tests are simply a report card or a measuring stick to show how we’re doing with all our other risk mitigation efforts. And we know that one of the biggest exposure times is if someone is yelling or speaking really loudly, that’s when you can really project a lot of aerosolized droplets into the air. So, again, tests are not perfect. And even though everyone tests negative, that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t possibly be infected. So we want to make sure we do all we can to mitigate that risk.”

There’s also the thinking that requiring players to wear masks would hinder in-game substitutions and game flow.

Some observers have pointed out that making coaches but not players wear masks on the sideline doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and says the league is cracking down because coaches are so front-and-center on the game broadcasts.

“These coaches that have been fined for [not wearing] the mask, I don’t get that at all,” Fox Sports analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said this week. “These coaches are tested just like the players and players don’t wear masks. Players go out there for the anthem and they aren’t wearing masks. They’re locked arm-in-arm. Coaches are tested just like they are. It’s all an optics thing from the league.”

What are the penalties?

Per The Post’s Mark Maske, the five coaches who were sanctioned for not wearing their masks on the sideline were fined $100,000 each and their teams were fined $250,000 each. The penalties were levied after NFL executive Troy Vincent sent everyone in the league a memo on Sept. 14 — the day after a number of coaches were spotted either not wearing masks or wearing them incorrectly during the first Sunday of the regular season — reminding people of their responsibilities and telling them they would be held responsible should they fail to follow league protocol.

“Failure to adhere to this requirement will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs,” Vincent wrote. “The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus.”