Now, facing the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, NFL referees are preparing to make their own big changes.
Many NFL players, including Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott, are concerned about the health risks of playing football during the COVID-19 pandemic. For NFL referees, who enter the 2020 season with an average age of 53, the concern is even greater.
As the NFL Players Association fights to help ensure its members’ safety, the NFL Referees Association is doing the same for its officials. As a result, referees are expected to wear gloves and face coverings this season to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
NFL officials are expected to wear some kind of face covering and gloves — and potentially could use handheld electronic whistles in 2020, NFLRA executive director Scott Green tells me.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 10, 2020
More changes to how football could look (and sound?) amidst COVID-19.
Of course, face coverings would make it far more difficult for refs to blow the whistle on a play. As a result, the NFLRA is looking into handheld electronic whistles that officials could use to stop play during games.
Electronic whistles and masks obviously won’t be enough for some referees, especially those who are at greater risk of suffering severe illness from the virus. Multiple referees are considering sitting out this season and the league is negotiating an opt-out clause, along with COVID-19 testing protocols with them, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
The NFL would have benefited from addressing these issues months ago, but the league expected the pandemic to improve before the fall. Now, with cases spiking across the country and the crisis worsening, the league is doing what it can with the clock ticking down.