American ice hockey team the Pittsburgh Penguins sparked online backlash this week after a social media staffer photoshopped face masks onto fans in a photo taken during the side’s first home game in front of spectators since last March.
“We just had to say this again … thanks for the continued support, Penguins fans,” the team’s official Twitter account posted alongside an image showing all fans properly wearing face coverings. “We can’t wait to see you tomorrow night.”
The NHL franchise had returned to PPG Paints Arena to face the Philadelphia Flyers en route to a 5-2 win. Just 2800 people were allowed inside to watch the action and a zero-tolerance mask policy was in place.
It was the Penguins’ first home game in front of fans since March 2, 2020, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But some eagle-eyed Twitter users noticed something was amiss. In the original photo, taken by Jeanine Leech of Getty Images, a female fan wearing her mask incorrectly is seen in the top-right corner, while two others didn’t have their faces properly covered.
The woman’s mask was down below her mouth, while another man’s mask wasn’t covering his nose.
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*** poor jobs Pens.”
Another critic admitted “growing pains” with the mask policy was expected considering it was the first home game with spectators — but still said the team should “do better”.
Meanwhile, another person joked that the team’s account appeared to be operated by an “actual penguin”.
“Photoshop is hard with no fingers,” the reply read.
In a statement to The New York Post, 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.”
Fans were allowed back into the arena after Governor Tom Wolf raised capacity at indoor venues to 15 per cent, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“We’re grateful for the loyalty that our fans showed during this difficult time,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
“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.”
This story first appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission