Is playing sports in masks doing more harm than good?


Courtesy of Lifetouch

Junior Saige Figgs playing soccer during the fall season in a mask.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone around the world has been asked to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus. As the country saw a little glimpse of normalcy with students returning to school and sports, this meant masks were still extremely relevant. Students were required to wear masks in school all day and athletes were forced to compete in masks as well. With the heat increasing, the question has slowly risen, are masks doing more harm than good in sports?

It is a known fact that breathing with a mask is more difficult than breathing without one. Looking at athletics, athletes are breathing in the same air as they are physically asserting themselves in their respective sports. Many states have taken different stands on the issue of playing sports in masks, especially in high heat situations.

Dr. Graham Snyder, a medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, stated, “…the issue with masking and the heat is an important issue. It is a balance between how can we prevent transmission and at the same time watch the safety of our athletes.” Even without masks, in high heat temperatures, the likelihood of heat illness is always a concern for athletes.

Many studies around the world have shown that competing in masks is not the safest thing. Dr Matthew Levy of the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine spoke on these studies. On the topic of wearing masks in sports, he stated that studies have shown that wearing masks in sports, “…can affect the amount of physiological stress on the body and raise the microclimate around the face.”

At Decatur, the entirety of the fall sports season was played in masks. Since the season started in March and ran until mid April, the heat was not a huge contender in the issue of wearing masks in sports. As the fall season wrapped up and spring sports started their season moving into May, it was evident these athletes were struggling with breathing in a mask in the increasing heat.

Two sport athlete and Decatur junior Saige Figgs plays both varsity soccer and lacrosse. Discussing the issue she stated, “I do not think it is healthy to play in a mask because the mask does not allow you to breathe as well.” After wearing a mask the entire soccer season, Figgs seemed excited to not have to wear one for the lacrosse season, after the sports committee announced masks were not required when athletes were “physically asserting” themselves. Expressing her excitement, she stated, “…playing without a mask is just a lot easier. When wearing a mask while playing soccer, I wanted to pull it down to my chin the whole time so I could breathe.”

Another Decatur athlete, Mary Mergott has noticed lots of issues after competing with the cross country team this past fall. Mergott stressed the concern that running with a mask on in the heat causes a lack of oxygen to your muscles. “In cross country I noticed instantly at practices that my legs physically hurt more and I was running slower than usual,” she stated. Mergott went on to state, “…for example, at home I would run long runs up to eight miles at a 7:30 average place whereas at practice with a mask I struggled to run four miles under an eight minute pace.” To ensure she was adequately prepared for any race, Mergott started to run with a mask on at home, but still noticed no change.

There is no way to know the long terms effects that breathing in the same air will do to the body, especially the lungs. With these recent studies, coaches have been advised to give athletes more water breaks and allow them to take time to catch their breath when competing in a mask. Moving forward, the hope is that athletes will not have to continue playing in masks in the increasing heat, but only time will tell.