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Early signs at Ohio State football practices show difficulties of wearing facial coverings

Joey Kaufman
jkaufman@dispatch.com
Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper wears a neck gaiter during a practice last week. Working out while wearing the facial covering "is challenging," linebacker Tuf Borland said.

The start of preseason training camp last week restored a sense of normalcy for Ohio State’s football team. But it also included some unfamiliar dynamics during this time of the coronavirus.

Standing out in team-produced videos, coaches and players went through practices while wearing facial coverings. Some were in face masks. Others sported neck gaiters, a fabric sleeve that can be pulled up to cover a person's mouth and nose.

Their use is in something of a trial phase at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, an issue coach Ryan Day said is under daily discussion among the staff and administrators.

The early responses from players have been a mixed bag.

“Some of the feedback we've gotten from our guys is that, especially when those masks and those gaiters get wet, it becomes very difficult to breathe,” Day said. “And that becomes another safety concern.”

It was a particular challenge for some of the heavier linemen, according to Day.

Due to some of the responses, players are not required to wear masks once they put on their helmets in practice.

Some of the Buckeyes’ captains who spoke with reporters on a teleconference last week went on about the challenges.

“Everyone has a different experience,” senior linebacker Justin Hilliard said, “but my experience has been not pleasant. It's pretty hard to work out or probably even play football with a tight mask wrapped around your face.

“I think it's a personal preference. Some guys are able to wear that all the time, 24/7. Me personally, I don't think I'll be able to wear a mask 24/7. But if I have to, I have no doubt that we’re very able to adapt. If the Big Ten or anybody were to say that we have to, that won’t be an issue.”

It’s not known if the Big Ten would require teams to be outfitted in masks for games. The conference's recently released protocols, as outlined in a five-page executive summary, did not make mention of facial coverings, though it prefaced the document by saying, “Due to the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic these protocols will be updated periodically.”

The Southeastern Conference said Friday that facial coverings will be required by players, coaches and staff personnel on the sideline during games. In guidelines issued earlier this summer, the NCAA recommended face masks or coverings be worn.

Public health officials consider facial coverings one of the most effective preventive measures in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. But there are obvious challenges for those involved in competition or similar high-intensity practices.

Under Ohio’s statewide mask order implemented last month, which requires people in public spaces to wear facial coverings, those participating in sports were declared exempt.

“Working out in the gaiter, running in the gaiter, is challenging,” linebacker Tuf Borland said. “I think it's just going to come down to personal preference and the level of comfort with what they want to do, and abiding by the protocols that are in place. It’s just going to come down to comfort.”

Day said the Buckeyes have explored other alternatives that include helmet face shields. They have been trying on select models during walk-throughs, along with practices.

In most designs, a shield is cut in two pieces. One half covers the upper half of the facemask, similar to the visors that players often wear, while the other is fastened to the lower half.

But some players have expressed reservations, similar to the breathing problems presented by masks.

“There is a concern from some of the guys, just about the ventilation of it, the fogging up,” Day said, “and so we're on a daily basis getting that information, and try to figure out what's best for everybody. Because the skill guys are different than the big guys, and the linebackers are different than the tight ends.

“That's something that the guys are giving us great feedback on.”

It was a topic of immediate conversation on Thursday, moments after the Buckeyes wrapped up their first practice of training camp as they walked off the field.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman