These masks are forever connected to the athletes who wore them
Masks have become a part of every aspect of our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, including sports. In the past, players outside of football only wore masks if they were injured and needed a little more protection. Today, many players are sporting masks, with some doing it with more style than others. As we accept this new norm, here is a look back at the most memorable masks in sports history.
10. Joe Perry's clear face guard
The San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame running back wore a clear Lucite face guard that protected most of his face and would be covered in dirt and grass by the end of the game. While his face guard was not adopted by the NFL, the standard that every player wear one was.
9. Giancarlo Stanton's face cage
After being hit in the face by a pitch in 2014, Stanton batted the next season with a protector that covered the left side of his face. The wiring included a "G" for Giancarlo.
8. Rudy Tomjanovich's facemask
In 1977, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kermit Washington punched the Houston Rockets forward, causing severe face and spinal injuries and nearly killing him. Tomjanovich was out for five months and returned with a jarring white mask that covered his entire face and looked like something out of a slasher movie.
7. Joel Embiid's facemask
After breaking the orbital bone in his left eye, the Philadelphia 76ers center returned for Game 3 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs with a virtually indestructible black mask made of polypropylene that was embedded carbon fiber filaments. His return helped power the 76ers to beat the Miami Heat in five games.
6. Joe Theismann's single-bar facemask
The Washington Redskins quarterback was the last non-kicker to wear a single-bar facemask because it helped his field of vision. He did pay a price for that extra view when two of his teeth were knocked out in a game in 1982.
5. Bernard Hopkins' executioner hood
Boxing's grand old man was also one of the sport's most eccentric pugilists. He started his career under the moniker, "The Executioner" and then switched to "The Alien" in his 40s, wearing masks for both during his ring entrance. The alien mask was a bit silly. The executioner's hood? Now, that was quite intimidating.
4. Richard Hamilton's facemask
Hamilton broke his nose thrice over a two-season period and wore a clear protective facemask after the third time. Many NBA players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James wore these types of masks when they needed to during their career. Hamilton makes this list because he chose to wear the mask for the rest of his career and became synonymous with it.
3. Bill Laimbeer's faceplate
The four-time All-Star center was the most physical player on the Detroit Pistons "Bad Boys" teams… and that's saying something. When he fractured his cheekbone before the 1990 season, opponents did not cut him any slack when he went for rebounds, so Laimbeer donned a clear plastic faceplate that would distribute the weight of any hit that he received. Even 30 years later, it's still hard to picture him without it.
2. The NFL's customized facemasks
In the early part of the 2000s, players ranging from LaDainian Tomlinson to Ray Lewis began customizing their facemasks to make them harder for their opponents to grab them. By 2012, players were supporting "Bane-like" guards, named after the massive masked Batman villain, which covered their entire face with a grid. Anyone trying to grab one of these facemasks would break a finger or two. Sadly, they are now a thing of the past, as the NFL banned all non-standard facemasks in 2013.
1. Jacques Plante's goalie mask
It's hard to believe that hockey goalies once played without masks, but they did until Plante broke his nose during a game in 1959. He returned from the locker room wearing a homemade mask and demanded that the Montreal Canadiens let him wear it if they wanted him to finish the game. The rest is history.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of hhof.com)