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NFL refs expected to wear masks, could use electronic whistles during 2020 season

Matt Johnson
NFL referees huddle during 2019 season
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is creating an abundance of safety guidelines, health protocols and strict social distancing rules for players to follow during the 2020 season. Now, facing the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, NFL referees are preparing to make their own big changes.

NFL refs likely to wear masks, could use electronic whistles due to COVID-19

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.

AAs 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.

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 the 2020 NFL season and the league is negotiating an opt-out clause, along with COVID-19 testing protocols with them, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

The NFL certainly would have benefitted 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.