Rightfully strict enforcement of proper COVID-19 protocols, such as wearing a mask and social distancing remain tight at Loyola, except for seemingly one spot on campus — Gentile Arena.
Loyola’s men’s and women’s basketball season is in full swing, and it’s been exciting for The Phoenix Editorial Board to once again watch the Ramblers take the court after a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Loyola men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser, arguably the most visible arm of the university and the school’s highest-paid employee — raking in $1,154,781 in 2018-19 — doesn’t always wear a mask properly over his nose and mouth during games.
At nearly every timeout or undesirable call made by referees, Moser can be seen pulling his mask down to yell at or talk to people well within a six-foot reach. Some players and coaches on Moser’s bench can’t seem to wear masks or wear them properly, either.
Improper mask usage by coaches and others on the bench is against the NCAA’s Guidance and Recommendations for Game Day Operations and is dangerous from a public health standpoint. Despite an outbreak in the fall, Loyola’s men’s basketball team doesn’t seem to be enforcing strict mask-wearing policies.
The NCAA’s Guidance and Recommendations for Game Day Operations advises “all individuals necessary to host a home basketball game should be divided into three tiers,” based on “ability to practice physical distancing (6 feet or greater) and the role played in connection with the competition.”
Tier 1 consists of student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff and officials (referees). The NCAA says “all Tier 1 individuals should wear masks/face coverings, except for student-athletes and officials on the playing surface. Physical distancing should be adhered to whenever possible.”
While these are just guidelines, they tell us that Tier 1 individuals — with the exception of student-athletes and referees on the “playing surface” — should be wearing masks at all times.
Moser told Phoenix reporters “it’s just hard” to yell with a mask on during games because of the noise in the arena.
“We need to be better, I think everyone needs to be better,” Moser said. “But it’s one of those things in life, it’s a lot harder to do than to say, and I’m personally seeing that myself.”
This is common throughout the NCAA. A number of coaches and student-athletes from other schools don’t wear their masks properly either, despite months of research proving the effectiveness of masks and their vital role in stemming COVID-19’s spread. Some players and coaches wear them effectively, some wear them incorrectly or some don’t at all. But what we see is inconsistency.
It’s undeniable that sporting a mask is an adjustment for everyone, however, brave medical professionals and essential workers wear them on a daily basis and have since the early months of 2020.
The NHL is requiring coaches to wear masks behind the bench during games and on the ice for practice. The commissioner said they “are not a suggestion or a recommendation” and the NHL “will vigorously enforce them,” The Chicago Tribune reported.
Some NFL coaches have been fined for violating the rules of wearing face masks. In addition, the NBA has dealt with a spike of COVID-19 cases this month, leading the league to mandate masks on the bench, among other measures.
“Masks work best when everyone wears one,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Last time we checked, “everyone” includes student-athletes — not on the court — and coaches. It seems as if Loyola’s men’s team’s experience battling the virus last semester has been forgotten.
The Loyola men’s basketball team announced Nov. 16 it had stopped practicing due to positive COVID-19 cases among personnel. A day later, sources close to the situation said the majority of the team tested positive for the virus, The Phoenix reported.
After such a stressful experience, we thought Moser and the rest of the team would be taking the pandemic more seriously.
But this choice to flout proper mask usage doesn’t just pose a possible public health risk for the players, staff and other personnel who help make pandemic gameplay possible. Nearly just as important is the message it sends to the thousands of fans who tune in to watch Moser’s team play each week.
During a pandemic with usual campus activities on pause, it’s incumbent on Loyola’s players, coaching staff and other personnel across all teams to step up and present proper pandemic behavior. While teams have the luxury of frequent testing and may feel personally comfortable in their “bubble,” it’s important to remember that this isn’t the reality for all fans.
And when the simple public health act of wearing a mask becomes politicized, as we’ve seen throughout our country’s nearly year-long pandemic fight, it becomes even more vital that these representatives of our school choose to model appropriate behavior.