J.J. Watt gets his wish: Face shields reportedly won't be required for NFL's COVID-19 season

Fans in the stands will be required to wear face masks for the NFL’s return.

Players on the field? Face protection will be optional.

That’s according to a report from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. On Thursday, Garafolo tweeted out sketches of the latest iteration of the Oakley face shield that’s intended to stem the potential to spread of COVID-19 from one player to another for the planned NFL season.

Included in that report is a note that “the expectation is that they will be recommended but not required.”

Add it to the ever-expanding list of bad ideas associated with the return of sports.

Here’s this thing that’s designed to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 among players as they travel around pandemic hot spots like Miami, Phoenix and Houston. But if it makes you uncomfortable or cramps your style as a player, don’t worry about it.

J.J. Watt fought shield mandate

Houston Texans All-Pro pass rusher J.J. Watt seems a likely culprit behind the lack of a mandate. As he’s made rightful demands of the NFL to come up with a semblance of a COVID-19 safety plan, he’s also balked at this most basic of safety measures.

Texans pass rusher JJ Watt
As J.J. Watt demands accountability from the league, his pressure has appeared to weaken a basic COVID-19 safety measure. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

You want to put something around my mouth?

Watt told Pro Football Talk earlier in July that if face shields are mandated, he’s likely sitting out the season.

“My second year in the league, I thought it would be cool,” Watt said. “I put a visor on my helmet. I was like, ‘It looks so cool, I want to put a visor on.’ I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, ‘Take this sucker off, I’m going to die out here.’ Just the face one.

“So now you want to put something around my mouth? No. You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don’t think you’re going to see me out there on the field.”

Which is fine. No player in any league should play this COVID-19 season if they’re not comfortable or don’t feel safe doing so. And they don’t owe anybody a detailed explanation why.

But the real effect of Watt’s protest is pressure on the league to limit a safety measure. Do we know that decision makers are leaning toward recommending rather than mandating because of Watt? No.

But it’s not hard to do the math considering the pressure came from one of the league’s most respected and high-profile players.

Of course all of these details presume that there will be a season to begin with.

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