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Pittsburgh Penguins are under fire for photoshopping masks onto fans’ faces

The Pittsburgh Penguins have come under fire for photoshopping masks onto fans’ faces during the team’s first game in front of home supporters for nearly a year.

The scandal first unfolded on Twitter on Wednesday when the Penguins’ official page tweeted an image showing a group of fans all appearing to be properly wearing face coverings as they watched their team take on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

‘We just had to say this again … thanks for the continued support, Penguins fans,’ the post read. ‘We can’t wait to see you tomorrow night.’

Tuesday night marked the first time fans had been allowed back into the PPG Paints Area since March 8, 2020. Just 2,800 people were allowed inside the 20,000-seater stadium to watch the action, and a supposed zero-tolerance mask policy was also put in place.

However, some eagle-eyed Twitter sleuths were quick to notice something was amiss with the image the Penguins posted: the masks of three fans appeared to have been superimposed over their faces.

The scandal first unfolded on Twitter on Wednesday when the Penguins’ official page tweeted an image of a group of fans all properly wearing face masks as they stood to cheer on the team during their game against the Philadelphia flyers on Tuesday

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: In the original photo, three fans' masks had been edited to stretch over their nose, and one woman who appeared completely maskless had her head cropped out

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: In the original photo, three fans’ masks had been edited to stretch over their nose, and one woman who appeared completely maskless had her head cropped out

DK Pittsburgh Sports Penguins reporter Taylor Haase unearthed the original photo on Getty Images, taken by Jeanine Leech, and pointed out the differences between picture and the version shared by the NHL franchise.  

In Leech’s original photo, a number of fans among the socially distanced crowd are seen going either completely maskless or not wearing their masks properly.

In the Penguins’ version of the picture, in addition to including some hand-drawn doodles and a quote from head coach Mike Sullivan, the team’s social media department appears to have extended masks over the noses of three fans who were not properly wearing them.

Additionally, the head of another fan who appeared to be completely maskless had her head cropped out of the image entirely.

Haase claims that COVID-19 guideline violations were so rampant in the arena on Tuesday night that there ‘isn’t a single Getty picture to choose from that didn’t have any issues.’

Angry fans then flooded the replies section of the Penguins’ altered post, asking why they had taken the time to manipulate the image, rather than properly enforcing safety protocols during the game.

One critic quickly called out the seemingly doctored image as ‘terrible BS’ from the team.

‘Either enforce the rules or don’t, but don’t lie to us either,’ the tweet read. ‘P**s poor jobs Pens.’

'We just had to say this again ... thanks for the continued support, Penguins fans,' the post read. 'We can't wait to see you tomorrow night.'

‘We just had to say this again … thanks for the continued support, Penguins fans,’ the post read. ‘We can’t wait to see you tomorrow night.’

DK Pittsburgh Sports Penguins reporter Taylor Haase unearthed the original photo on Getty Images, taken by Jeanine Leech, and pointed out the differences between it and the version shared by the NHL franchise

DK Pittsburgh Sports Penguins reporter Taylor Haase unearthed the original photo on Getty Images, taken by Jeanine Leech, and pointed out the differences between it and the version shared by the NHL franchise

Penguins admitted to editing the original picture (above) and said the staffer responsible has been disciplined

Penguins admitted to editing the original picture (above) and said the staffer responsible has been disciplined

Another user, named Adam Perry, called for the individual responsible for editing the post to be fired. 

‘Whoever made the decision to photoshop masks on fans in this photo should be fired, and the team should apologize,’ he wrote. ‘This is a historic pandemic that’s killed over 500,000 – and your franchise player has missed ice time because of it. You can do better than lying to the public.’ 

A third critic added: ‘Hey guys…if you can’t enforce the mask policy, then stop admitting fans…that’s why I won’t attend…if I’m paying top dollar for tickets, then it’s my right for my family and me to be protected and feel safe and have the damn policy enforced…no mask, no admittance!’ 

Others conceded that ‘growing pains’ are to be expected considering it was the first game back with spectators, however they urged the team to ‘do better’. 

Meanwhile, some attempted to make light of the situation, poking fun at the team’s ‘hack job’ Photoshop effort, and also joking that Penguins’ social pages are clearly run by an ‘actual penguin’.

‘Photoshop is hard with no fingers,’ the reply read.

In a Thursday statement, the Penguins acknowledged that a social media staffer had sent out the ‘altered’ image and has since been disciplined for doing so.

‘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 team told Insider. ‘We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and our arena staff having roving teams to enforce during home games.’

The team continued that the ‘perhaps well intended’ staffer, however, should ‘not have altered a wide crowd photo to adjust masks on faces of even a few fans who were not strictly following the rules.’

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

Fans were permitted to go back into the arena after Gov. Tom Wolfe raised capacity for indoor venues to 15 percent on March 1, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

‘We’re grateful for the loyalty that our fans showed during this difficult time,’ said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

‘We feel like we have some of the most loyal fans in sports. These guys have been so supportive of our players over the years. I know the players are appreciative of that.’

The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t alone in coming under fire for mask photoshopping amid the pandemic.

In December, Disney were caught digitally imposing face coverings on guests who  seemingly refused to wear them.

Disney was accused of photoshopping face masks onto riders despite previously stating that guests must wear the coverings at all times

Disney was accused of photoshopping face masks onto riders despite previously stating that guests must wear the coverings at all times

The image posted to Disney World Junkies appears to show those at the front of the ride in real face coverings; a guest (left) at the back of the picture looks to have a digitally altered mask

The image posted to Disney World Junkies appears to show those at the front of the ride in real face coverings; a guest (left) at the back of the picture looks to have a digitally altered mask

Disney had initially refused to release images where guests were not in masks, according to reports. But a picture taken on the DINOSAUR attraction in Animal Kingdom late last year showed a rider with a surgical mask superimposed over their face  

Since reopening in July Disney states on its website that ‘face coverings are required for all Guests (ages 2 and up) and Cast Members’ as part of their COVID-19 rules.

They add: ‘You may remove your face covering while actively eating or drinking, but you should be stationary and maintain appropriate physical distancing.’

In the wake of the controversy,  Disney said it would no longer alter images of maskless guests. 


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