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NFL to penalize players, coaches for approaching refs without mask?

As the NFL weighs discipline against the Tennessee Titans for their COVID-19 outbreak, the league is also making changes that will carry significant consequences for other coaches and players this season.

Sep 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) talks to referee Todd Prukop during the second quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL weighs discipline against the Tennessee Titans for their COVID-19 outbreak, the league is also making changes that will carry significant consequences for other coaches and players this season.

A few weeks after handing out over $1 million in fines, the NFL is set to take its on-field safety protocols to another level on game days. If fines weren’t enough to deter violating the league’s COVID-19 guidelines, a new policy may do the trick.

NFL adopts new penalty for on-field COVID-19 protocol violations

Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen approaches NFL ref without mask
Sep 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) talks to referee Todd Prukop during the second quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating told teams in a memo on Friday, obtained by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, that any person who approaches an official without a face covering will be subject to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

In the message to clubs, Perry Fewell drove home the NFL’s enhanced safety guidelines and warned clubs that there will be significant consequences for violating the rules. In addition to the 15-yard penalty, players and coaches may face a suspension and organizations could be fined or forfeit a draft pick.

Taking a far stricter and disciplined approach to the safety protocols is an understandable measure by the league. The NFL and NFL Players Association’s ongoing investigation into the Titans’ outbreak is revealing how the organization didn’t take the protocols seriously.

While this is the only widespread outbreak thus far, it’s not the only issue to pop up this week. The New York Jets canceled practice Friday after a ‘presumptive positive’ COVID-19 test, New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive on Wednesday and multiple games were postponed due to outbreaks.

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There are billions of dollars at stake for the NFL this season and every game lost is revenue players and teams can’t get back. With so much on the line, a hard-line approach might be the only way for a full season to happen. The league also needed to take action after the referees’ union complained over Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh berating an official without wearing a mask.

More penalties are the last thing fans want to see, especially if it’s a 15-yard penalty for not wearing a mask when confronting an official. If it’s that or games being canceled, though, extra flags are a price worth paying.