Old U.S. Soccer jerseys become unique protective masks

Old U.S. national team soccer jerseys found in the basement of U.S. Soccer’s South Loop headquarters in are being repurposed as masks for first responders.

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Old U.S. national team soccer jerseys, like these work by the U.S. National Team in the 1994 World Cup, that were found in the basement of U.S. Soccer’s South Loop headquarters in are being repurposed as masks for first responders.

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Some frontline nurses and doctors battling the coronavirus pandemic head on now have a bit of soccer history for protection.

When a bunch of old U.S. national team soccer jerseys were found in the basement of the Soccer House, a stately old mansion that serves as U.S. Soccer’s headquarters in Chicago, the federation’s chief medical officer, Dr. George Chiampas, thought they could be put to a unique use.

“Several of our staff, our federation said, ‘What can we do to use this beautiful game to be able to support frontline workers? To disseminate a message to make a difference?’” said Chiamas, who works at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial hospital.

Enter Melizabeth Santos, a Chicago teacher who had been making masks to protect her family and friends from the coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic when personal protective equipment was scarce.

“I got an email from the U.S. Soccer Federation asking how I would feel about helping to collaborate on a project that would take retired jerseys and turn them into masks for first responders,” Santos said. “And I really was excited about that because I didn’t really have the means to be able to provide masks to first responders like I wish I would have been able to.”

Santos said the challenge was taking the polyester jerseys and making them more breathable as a mask, so she used a cotton backing. She naturally wanted the masks to look good and represent the players who wore the jerseys. Some of the masks are made to cover N95 masks.

Some 500 masks are being distributed to hospitals, police and fire departments. One recipient was former D.C. United player-turned doctor Robbie Russell, an emergency room resident in the University of Virginia medical system.

Another? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

“I am going to be walking right into the front door of my (emergency department) with red, white and blue blazed across my face. Until I have to put on my heavy duty mask I’ll be at my station wearing my US Soccer Federation mask,” Russell said. “It’ll be awesome.”

One of Santos’ takeaways? “It’s worth it to take lessons from your grandmas on sewing, that there’s still a need for it.”

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