Leagues are starting to get creative in an attempt to keep their players safe when and if play resumes during the global coronavirus pandemic. The NFL is doing their part and reportedly testing helmets that include face masks with surgical or N95 material. According to the NFL Players Association's medical director Thom Mayer, NFL engineers and Oakley, who are under contract to make all face visors for the league, are working together to make prototypes that could be used for the 2020 season.
On Monday, Mayer spoke on The Adam Schefter Podcast about what he believes will occur this upcoming season regarding increased player safety.
"There will probably be a recommendation" that the league uses a modified mask, Mayer admitted. He has seen some of the prototypes, which are drastically different than what fans are used to seeing on players:
"They've got some prototypes. They're doing really good work. Some of them, when you first look at them, you think, 'Gosh, no' 'cause you're not used to seeing it. You're just not used to seeing it. But they're looking at every issue you can imagine, including when it fogs up. What do we do with that? But these guys are used to dealing with this stuff," he said.
There is no word yet on what these innovations will ultimately look like, but Mayer says it could involve covering the entire face mask with surgical mask material. He suggested early in March, as the coronavirus outbreak was quickly spreading globally, that the NFL start brainstorming on making a modified helmet.
"I had suggested that we should consider novel and emerging ways to handle the helmets and the face masks and the spread of the virus, and these guys, the bioengineers that we use and that the league uses, Oakley... these guys got the bit between their teeth." Mayer said.
The NFL season has not started yet, but playing games in the middle of a pandemic will not be easy. Besides potentially wearing a different face mask, Mayer commented on what else players should do when the season does begin in order to stay as safe as possible.
"...Getting the helmet off, putting a mask on right afterward, maintaining social distancing when not in the field as much as possible, using single-use hydration -- whether water, Gatorade, whatever it might be -- I mean, just every little detail," he said. "Anybody who's got a risk, I would advise them to be zealous, religious and, frankly, almost maniacally committed to minimizing the chance of spreading the virus."
Even if face masks aren't different, this upcoming season will likely not look like one fans are used to seeing. There's a chance no fans will be in the stands at games and social distancing and altered pregame action could also occur to prioritize limiting exposure of the virus.