After Panthers HC Matt Rhule seen on sideline not wearing mask, NFL threatens discipline

After Panthers HC Matt Rhule seen on sideline not wearing mask, NFL threatens discipline
After Panthers HC Matt Rhule seen on sideline not wearing mask, NFL threatens discipline (Source: Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - The NFL has put in place many protocols to avoid the spread of COVID-19 throughout the league and to keep players, coaches and staff safe.

One of those rules is that any individual with access to the bench/sideline area, from coaches to medical staff, must wear face coverings on the sidelines at all times.

After the rule was not uniformly followed Sunday, including by Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, the league sent out a memo, written by the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent — Monday morning threatening to penalize those who do not comply.

The focus was on head coaches, who are frequently shown on TV, as Rhule was Sunday. Those on the sidelines have the option of wearing a mask, neck gaiter and/or face shield, as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid did in the league’s season opener Thursday.

“The NFL-NFLPA gameday protocol, which reflects the advice of infectious disease experts, club medical staffs and local and state governmental regulations, requires all individuals with bench area access (including coaches and members of the club medical staff) to wear face coverings at all times,” Vincent wrote.

“Failure to adhere to this requirement will result in accountability measures being imposed against offending individuals and/or clubs. The face covering must be worn as designed so that it securely fits across the wearer’s nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of the virus.”

Throughout the game Sunday, Rhule was seen talking to players on sidelines with his black Panthers mask around his chin, leaving his mouth and nose exposed while in close proximity to players and other staff. Rhule did wear his mask properly for much of the game, but the NFL is being strict about never taking it off.

He was not the only head coach who did not wear a face covering throughout a game Sunday. Rams coach Sean McVay was shown on Sunday Night Football also wearing his mask around his chin, similar to Rhule. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden also had his mask down around his chin at times throughout the game Sunday.

The memo did not describe exactly what the penalty will be if the practice continues. The “bench area” under the 2020 league protocols is the sideline on each side of the field and is delineated with a yellow dotted line between the 30-yard lines. Team personnel with access to this area must stay within the 32-yard lines, which are delineated with a white line.

Throughout the NFL, coaches, staff and players are being tested daily for COVID-19, except for game days, and wear contract tracers while in the building to show who they have been in close contact with for extended periods of time if someone were to test positive. Face coverings offer extra protection.

The Panthers currently have two players on the league-wide COVID-19 lists — OL Chris Reed and DB Natrell Jamerson. Teams are not required to disclose if a staff member or coach tests positive.