Panthers coaches to mask up for 'Sweet Caroline' celebration

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Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule yells during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said the team’s coaching staff will be masked up for future victory celebrations in the locker room that include the singing of “Sweet Caroline.”

A decision on whether the players should also wear masks is under evaluation.

The Panthers have celebrated their first two wins of the Rhule era with a new tradition that includes assistant special teams coach Ed Foley leading players in a spirited rendition of the famous Neil Diamond song in the locker room following the game. Videos from the team’s Twitter account show players gathered in close proximity to Foley — and each other — and singing along without masks on.

Rhule said after it was brought to the team's attention that this could be a potential social distancing issue, a decision was made that coaches will wear masks for future celebrations given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We started looking into the issue ourselves and we asked our medical staff and just said, ‘Hey, any thoughts on whether we should do that or not,’” Rhule told The Associated Press on Friday. “.... All of the coaches, including coach Foley who is singing, if it continues, they definitely have to have masks on. If we do sing we will have to be masked up. I want to make sure we are safe and in compliance.”

As for the players, Rhule said that decision will be left up to the team's medical staff. So far that decision has not been finalized, but a team spokesman said that could come over the weekend or next week.

The Panthers (2-2) visit the winless Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Carolina's decision to have coaches wear masks for locker room celebrations comes a few days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell warned NFL teams of penalties including potential forfeits of games for violations of COVID-19 protocols that force changes in the schedule. Goodell sent a memo to teams Monday reiterating the need to adhere fully to all of the league’s health and safety guidelines.

The NFL has fined coaches $100,000 each for not wearing masks on the sideline during games.

The Associated Press reached out to the NFL for comment about whether the Panthers locker room singing celebrations were in violation of the league's COVID-19 protocols, but the league has not responded.

For players, the obvious question is why should they need to wear masks while singing a song after a game, but not be required to wear one while spending three-plus hours on game day when they are potentially exchanging air droplets with opponents?

During the week, Carolina players are required to wear masks when attending team meetings, and the team has gone to great lengths to keep its players safe, including making all employees wear contract tracers.

However, masks are optional in the weight room and on the practice field.

“We are all finding out that life is very different, but there is probably always a way to make sure that we're having fun and still being as safe as possible," Rhule said


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