A photo of Penguins' fans altered to show them wearing masks.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, many sports arenas are opening up to at least small numbers of fans, but often doing so with mask “protocols” that aren’t always stringently enforced. That presents some awkward situations for team social media accounts, who would like to show off their fans in the stands, but are going to take criticism for that if the fans in question aren’t properly wearing masks. The way the Pittsburgh Penguins chose to deal with that Wednesday night was was particularly poor, though. The team posted the above photo showing fans all in masks to Twitter and Instagram, but as many noted, the initial Getty Images photo had one fan in the top right corner not wearing a mask at all, while two others (in the top right and bottom right) weren’t covering their noses with their masks. That led to a remarkable statement from the team Thursday to Joshua Rhett Miller of The New York Post (that piece also includes the original Getty photo from Jeanine Leech via Icon Sportswire, for those looking to check it out):

In a statement to The Post Thursday, the team acknowledged that a social media staffer sent out the “altered” photo and has since been reprimanded.

“We are excited to have our fans back to PPG Paints Arena, and following the advice of medical professionals, we are taking all precautions to enforce the use of masks to keep our fans safe,” the statement read. “We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and our arena staff having roving teams to enforce during home games.”

The team said the “perhaps well-intended” staffer, however, should not have manipulated the wide crowd photo of “a few fans” who weren’t following the rules.

“Our social media team should never send out altered photos to our fan base,” the statement continued. “This is a violation of our social media and safety policy, and this staffer has been disciplined.”

Funnily enough, the team appears to employ more editors for photos than for their press statements (“our arena staff having roving teams to enforce”?). Here’s the Penguins’ still-up tweet of the altered photo:

This is just a bad idea on a lot of levels. If you’re determined to show a photo of your fans, during a time when many are still skeptical of fans being in arenas at all, maybe don’t post one that has fans not wearing or improperly wearing masks? And, maybe if that’s the only photo you can find and you’re still determined to post it, perhaps don’t do a clumsy Photoshop job on a photo that has its original version widely and publicly available? It’s not going to go the way you think.

[The New York Post]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.