Weighing safety during a pandemic is tricky, particularly when something meant to keep student-athletes safe may cause them harm in other ways.
As reported by The Dallas Morning News, the National Federation of State High School Associations announced in August that it was prohibiting football players from wearing neck gaiters, a style of facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, during play because of the potential for injuries.
But the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for high school activities in Texas, does not follow NFHS rules for football and will not institute a state-wide restriction on gaiters.
A gaiter, also known as a buff, is a ring of stretchy, thin fabric worn around one’s neck that can be easily pulled up and down to cover the mouth and nose. Before the coronavirus pandemic, many used gaiters as cold-weather gear. Now, gaiters are the face-covering preference for many football players and coaches.
The NFHS announced in August that “a neck gaiter or buff should NOT be allowed [in football] as it could result in a neck/tracheal/laryngeal injury if grabbed from behind and used to drag a ball carrier down.” The organization will allow cloth face coverings that tie around the head or loop over the ears and some plastic face shields that are part of football players' helmets.
While a couple of participants expressed concern about the potential for gaiter-related injury, the group decided to instead draft a statement, which it plans to release this week, to acknowledge the potential danger in neck gaiters but to remind teams that autonomy for restrictions lies with local school officials.
“When you say a gaiter, the nature of the gaiter, the manner in which it’s being worn, all of those things play into what’s happening … we have left that to be a local decision,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said during the meeting.
“They know their public health context better than we do, so they are making those decisions, but we are talking them through the injury possibilities that can occur if they’re wearing them during competition.”
After about five minutes of discussion, the committee decided that because the UIL follows NCAA rules for football, which have not prohibited use of neck gaiters, they would follow a similar model.