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NFL unveils Oakley face shield intended to enhance COVID-19 safety — will J.J. Watt be on board?

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The NFL has unveiled a face shield prototype that it believes will be a better option than masks to help thwart the on-field spread of COVID-19.

The device revealed on Monday called the Oakley Mouth Shield was developed by Oakley in collaboration with the NFL and NFL Players Association. The league hopes that it’s a more attractive option for players who have pushed back on the idea of wearing masks during gameplay.

The shield is still a work in progress. Whether a finished product will be mandated is unclear. There is no mandate as of now.

Chairman of the NFL’s Engineering Committee Dr. Jeff Crandall told the Associated Press that the league has worked with players to get feedback on the device and will continue to do so.

“The player feedback was integral in coming up with this design,” Crandall said. “They [Oakley] would start with this design and say: ‘Do you like this one better or this one? How’s your field of view on this one?’

“At the end, they did have feedback from players. This was their choice for the players they’ve evaluated so far. I think each player is going to have an evaluation for themselves in terms of exactly how they favor one concept versus another.”

The face shield seen here is a work in progress. (AP)
The face shield seen here is a work in progress. (AP)

Will players wear them?

Developing the shield into a device that players will be comfortable wearing is paramount to its viability. Players will likely balk at a device that restricts their vision, which could present safety concerns beyond that of COVID-19.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt already said that he might sit out the season if the NFL mandates face shields after he had a poor experience wearing a visor.

“My second year in the league, I thought it would be cool,” Watt told Pro Football Talk last week. “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.”

Visibility, breathability are concerns

NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer told ESPN that visibility and breathability have been the biggest concerns voiced by players in the initial development stages. He said that “claustrophobia has not been an issue yet” among the few players who have tested the device.

The shield is clear and has plastic slits. The idea is to block droplets from players’ mouths and noses from spreading while discouraging players from touching their faces during gameplay.

“Clear plastic with slits or holes in it that block any direct path of a droplet, but do promote air flow, communication, soundwaves,” Crandall said.

Mayer said that the shield has been distributed to players on the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams due to their proximity to Oakley’s Southern California headquarters.

Whether NFL players will be open to wearing the final product is yet to be seen. As is the shield’s viability as an effective safety measure for a close-contact sport being played in the midst of a pandemic.

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