On Wednesday professional NHL hockey team the Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves at the center of an online controversy after eagle-eyed fans discovered a social media staffer had photoshopped face masks onto fans. The photo was taken from the team’s first home game in front of a live crowd since COVID-19 lockdowns began one year ago.
“We just had to say this again … thanks for the continued support, Penguins fans,” the team’s official Twitter account posted beside a photo showing all spectators wearing required face coverings. “We can’t wait to see you tomorrow night.”
The Pittsburgh team had come back to PPG Paints Arena after just one night earlier playing against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-2 victory. Only 2,800 people were let inside the arena and there was said to be a zero-tolerance mask policy in effect. It was the team’s first game back at home in front of a live audience since March 2, 2020, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
However, some Twitter users spotted that something was wrong. In the original image on Getty, an uncovered female fan’s face can clearly be seen in the top-right corner, along with two other hockey enthusiasts who weren’t wearing masks either.
Someone quickly pointed to the supposedly enhanced picture as “terrible BS” from the franchise.
“Either enforce the rules or don’t, but don’t lie to us either,” the tweet said. “Piss poor jobs Pens.”
Another account chalked it up to “growing pains” with the public mask mandate which should be unsurprising considering it was the team’s first game back at home with live spectators, but noted that the Penguins should “do better.”
Nonetheless, another user mocked the team’s account staffer, saying it seemed to be controlled by an “actual penguin.”
“Photoshop is hard with no fingers,” the response read.
In comments to The New York Post on Thursday, the franchise admitted that a social media staffer posted the “altered” image and has since been admonished.
“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 said. “We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and our arena staff having roving teams to enforce during home games.”
A representative for the fanchise noted that the “perhaps well-intended” staffer should not have altered the wide crowd picture of “a few fans” who were breaking the rules.
“Our social media team should never send out altered photos to our fan base,” the statement added. “This is a violation of our social media and safety policy, and this staffer has been disciplined.”
A live crowd was permitted to come back to the arena after Gov. Tom Wolf raised capacity at indoor venues to 15 percent, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“We’re grateful for the loyalty that our fans showed during this difficult time,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan stated.
“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 Penguins have been an NHL team since 1967, competing before that as the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is currently owned by hockey legend Mario Lemieux as well as Ronald Burkle, who bought the franchise in 1999 and saved the team from bankruptcy. The Pittsburgh team has the honor of holding the most Stanley Cup championships of any other American franchise that was not part of the Original Six, who started the NHL.