After having no preseason games last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL preseason returned on Aug. 5 with the Hall of Fame Game in Ohio. That brought a packed crowd to an NFL game for the first time since before the pandemic, and that’s expected to continue with teams being allowed to fill their stadiums to capacity.
The beginning of the preseason comes as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again across the country. The increase in infections has led some cities, including Atlanta, Kansas City and Washington D.C., to reinstitute indoor mask mandates. So, as fans come back to NFL stadiums across the country, there continues to be uncertainty about what rules may be in place.
Can fans be required to wear masks at sporting events?
Yes, venue operators, teams and leagues can require fans to wear masks. Fans must also comply with local and state mask regulations.
WHAT WE FOUND
Charles Johnson, a labor and employment lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it’s “entirely appropriate” for venues to have a mask mandate.
There have been requirements for fans to wear masks at stadiums throughout the pandemic. The NFL required fans to wear masks at games during the 2020 season. The league has not issued the same mandate for this season.
However, teams can make their own rules regarding masks. For example, in Major League Baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies don’t require any fans to wear masks, but strongly encourage fans who are unvaccinated to wear masks. The New York Yankees have a more strict policy. The organization requires fans who are unvaccinated to wear a face covering.
While leagues and teams can make their own decisions, they must also comply with state and local regulations. That’s affected some teams as some areas have reinstituted indoor mask mandates.
For example, in Kansas City, masks are currently required in indoor public places, regardless of vaccination status. That means the city’s NFL team, the Chiefs, updated its mask guidance to follow the new mandate.
Even though most of the Chiefs’ stadium is outdoors, there are parts that are indoors. On its website, the Chiefs provide the following indoor guidance for fans: “In alignment with KCMO mayoral order, CDC guidelines, and building protocols, regardless of vaccination status, masks should be worn inside enclosed public areas including the CommunityAmerica Club Level, the Ford Founder's Club, the Foolish Lounge, the Broadcast Lounge, the Signature Suite Lounge, the Locker Room Club and the Chiefs Pro Shop unless actively eating or drinking.”
The team doesn’t require anyone to wear masks outdoors but recommends masks for fans who are unvaccinated.
And just because a specific mask policy is in place now doesn’t mean it can’t change in the future. For example, the Seattle Mariners required fans to wear masks earlier this MLB season. Currently, the team has no mask mandate and only recommends masks for fans who are not vaccinated.
While the rules for mask-wearing at sporting events vary, we can VERIFY sports venues can require fans to wear masks. The NFL hasn’t set any league-wide masking rules for fans this season.