NFL to Allow Penalties When Mask-Less Coaches Approach Refs

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2020
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The league has been cracking down with fines and threats of suspensions.

The National Football League on Friday authorized penalties to be assessed when coaches or another team's personnel approach a referee while not wearing a mask or remove their mask while speaking.

In a memo obtained by ESPN, senior vice president of officiating administration Perry Fewell wrote, "We have seen multiple occasions where head coaches have removed their masks to communicate with game officials during games. Doing so creates unnecessary, increased risk for the game official, the head coach, and others, and is inconsistent with the requirement that face coverings be worn at all times. ... Consistent with all other individuals on the sideline, game officials are entitled to your respect as they perform their job duties during the pandemic."

Continued Fewell: "We have reminded game officials that if an individual not wearing a face-covering approaches them inappropriately, they have the authority to take administrative or officiating action, including a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct."

The NFL has stepped up its mask enforcement after some coaches were either not wearing masks on the sideline or were wearing them improperly. Masks are required to be worn the entire game by team staff. Failure to do so could result in a fine and/or suspension, the NFL previously warned. Thus far, five coaches have been fined $100,000 apiece — their teams $250,000 — for failing to wear face masks during games, according to ESPN.

Since starting its season, the league has been hit with a slew of COVID-19 cases which have caused games to be moved around, the most recent of which impacted the New York Jets who sent everyone home Friday after a presumed positive COVID-19 test.