The NFL and Oakley created a new mouth shield designed to protect players from potential exposure to the coronavirus during play this season, officials announced Monday.
The Oakley Mouth Shield — made in collaboration with doctors and engineers from the league and the players’ union — features Oakley “Prizm Lens Technology,” which is used by skiers, military personnel and NFL players for enhanced color and contrast in their eyewear.
Plastic sheets extend down and then attach to the face guard. There are airways and other small openings on the mouth shield but none that will allow the direct transmission of droplets.
The mouth shield is expected to be delivered to all 32 NFL teams over the next week. According to ESPN, the mouth shield has already been given to the Los Angeles Rams and L.A. Chargers — two franchises close to Oakley’s headquarters.
“[Oakley] had a visor that covers the eyes. What could we do to cover the mouth and nose area?” Dr. Jeff Crandall, chairman of the NFL’s Engineering Committee, told Fox Business. “So they came up with a mouth shield that tried to keep the field of view as much as possible.
“You don’t want to block the lower part. You want to promote breathing and not a sense of restriction. You want to maximize comfort.”
Safety protocol negotiations are still ongoing between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Currently, there is no requirement for players to wear a visor or mouth shield, but the league’s medical experts are pushing for the use of the protective equipment.
“That’s certainly what we’re going to encourage,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told ESPN on Monday. “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.”
NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer said the mouth shield also has been distributed to multiple player representatives and equipment managers for additional feedback. According to Mayer, the two biggest concerns have been visibility and breathability.
“We’ve only had it on a few players — we have 2,500 players in the league — but I was surprised that … claustrophobia has not been an issue yet,” he said. “I think it will be when we [have more players testing them].”
While Oakley is the official visor supplier of the NFL, there are other manufacturers of face shields. According to Renie Anderson, chief revenue officer and executive vice president of NFL partnership, players could wind up using other brands in 2020.