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Sports and Masks Go Back Way Further Than the Pandemic

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Hockey players didn't always wear masks. Neither did football players. Decades ago, masks in sports were ridiculed and resisted before becoming widely adopted. Sports Illustrated's Steve Rushin makes a case for today's face coverings -- worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 -- through a rich history of PPE in sports.

According to Rushin, back in 1959, at Madison Square Garden, hockey player Jacques Plante donned a mask, causing a ripple of disapproval from players, coaches, and fans alike. At the time, New York general manager Muzz Patrick said, "The mask takes something from the fans. They want to see the man." 

Similarly, "football face masks were uncommon in the 1940s, mostly used by a player nursing an injury. That masks could also prevent injuries was a novel concept. But even beyond Plante, the ’50s would become a golden age of masking, when The Lone Ranger was among the most popular programs on the new medium of television. 'I’m going to continue to wear my mask,' the title character told his sidekick, Tonto. 'Our job has just begun,'" wrote Rushin.

Of course, today, hockey players and football players would look out of place without face masks.

Now, amid the pandemic, face coverings are being used to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and are being worn by athletes and coaches alike -- though not always during game play. In the MLB, masks are not required for players once they step on the diamond.

Face masks are also being used to raise awareness around issues of racial injustice, as seen by tennis player Naomi Osaka, who recently wore masks with the names of Black persons killed at the hands of police.

More broadly, face coverings have become a topic of debate in the United States, with President Donald Trump disagreeing with Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Sept. 16 on the effectiveness of masks. 

However, experts and scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, say that masks, though not 100% protective, help protect those who wear them and others.  

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