Ex-NFL defensive player of the year JJ Watt has every reason to celebrate after inking a big-money deal with the Arizona Cardinals. But he has found himself in the crosshairs of the pro-mask mob over a slew of social media photos.
Watt ignited the first tug of war of the NFL’s offseason when the future Hall of Fame defensive end signaled that he wanted out of the Houston Texans organization he had represented since he was drafted into the league in 2011.
The defensive powerhouse’s decision to end his association with the Texans comes amid a larger malaise inside the team which has also seen star quarterback Deshaun Watson also petition for pastures new.
But if Watt thought that signing the two-year deal which guarantees him income of at least $23 million throughout his contract was to mark the end of him hitting NFL beat headlines, he may have to think again after furious Twitter denizens hit out at him for appearing mask-less in a set of photographs celebrating the move.
Watt announced the move by posting a photograph to Twitter showing him working out in Cardinals-branded gear, later uploading another set showing him at an airstrip alongside Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill – who, as Watt pointed out, is a licensed pilot.
Another image showed Watt alongside his wife Kealia, a United States soccer international who competes for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Some sensitive fans weren’t quite so understanding when it came to Watt’s shots, pointing out that the 31-year-old star appeared to be ignoring social distancing rules and was not wearing a face-covering in any of the shots.
Not wearing masks & not distancing during a pandemic. Not setting good examples.
— Eileen Dwyer (@EileenDwyer6) March 1, 2021
I always love to see the twitter mask police make asses of themselves Your fears are not our problem
— Rick F**king Dalton (@GMGTCom1052) March 2, 2021
Social Media has exposed all the stupidity that goes into one person. Somehow these “Karens” find new ways to embarrass themselves
— Randlar (@mnkingsfan) March 1, 2021
Watt, along with practically every other player in the NFL, was subject to a battery of Covid-19 tests throughout the course of the season.
Despite measures in place to inhibit the spread of the virus, December saw an outbreak of the infection within the Texans facility – though it was not as severe as those that affected the rosters of the likes of the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns at various points of the campaign.
The reaction to Watt’s photos points to the larger and ongoing culture war which exists within sport some 13 months after the first confirmed Covid-19 death in the United States.
Sport remains severely impacted by restrictions, meaning that most major territories within the country must still obey restrictions regarding fan attendance.
Detractors, though, point out that the mitigation methods are overly-harsh – as are the waves of social media outrage which greet images such as Watt’s mask-less shots.
Watt’s decision to opt for Arizona ended a pursuit in which around one-third of the NFL’s 32 teams attempted to sign him, and one wonders if the Twitter brouhaha which has formed around him isn’t, in part at least, a case of sour grapes.