NFL, Oakley Partner for Coronavirus Mouth Shields on Helmets During 2020 Season

With NFL training camps and the 2020 season approaching, there are questions about how the league will protect players from COVID-19. The best method is unknown, but the NFL partnered with Oakley to create special masks for the players' helmets. The league unveiled the Oakley Mouth Shield on Monday morning and showcased a very different look.

The shield — designed by doctors and engineers from the NFL and NFL Players Association — features clear plastic that extends down and attaches to the face mask. Oakley's design includes airways and openings on the mouth shield. However, the chair of the NFL's engineering committee, Dr. Jeff Crandall, clarified that the openings will not allow for direct transmission of droplets. He also said that Oakley has conducted internal testing with sprayed fluids and noticed a high success rate of blocked transmission.

"I don't know that there's a direct percentage that anyone's come up with because a laboratory is not the on-field environment, obviously," Crandall said, per ESPN. "There's lots of things that players do on the fields that they're not easily replicating [in] the laboratory, but it is a significant blockage to transmission of droplets. There is no straight pathway through the face shield or visor for a droplet to be transmitted."

While the league will distribute the shields to all 32 teams in the coming days, the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams have both tested out the new design. NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer said that claustrophobia has not caused issues so far. Additionally, quarterbacks have successfully called plays after initial reports of sounding muffled.

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The league and the players are currently engaging in safety protocol negotiations ahead of the 2020 season. There is no current mandate that requires players to wear the new mouth shield on their helmets, and Houston Texans defender JJ Watt said that he is against the idea of wearing the mouth shield. However, the NFL's medical experts are encouraging players to use the available protective equipment.

"That's certainly what we're going to encourage," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer. "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."