California Gov. Gavin Newsom defended himself on Monday amid outrage over a maskless photo he took Sunday with basketball legend Magic Johnson at an NFL playoff game in Los Angeles where all spectators were required to wear masks.
“I was trying to be gracious, and I made a mist — you know, I mean, I was trying to be gracious,” the governor told reporters at a news conference on state mental health initiatives. “I took the mask off for a brief second. But I encourage people to continue to wear them.”
However, a snapshot from the Los Angeles Rams’ own web camera shows Newsom watching the game unmasked, along with other spectators in the box where celebrities and elite politicians gathered Sunday at SoFi stadium in Southern California, where the Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the final playoff game before the Super Bowl.
Other web cam photos show the governor watching the game with a mask on.
Conservatives also pointed to a video of what appeared to be Newsom greeting Johnson maskless.
Newsom wasn’t the only high-profile California politician facing backlash from the photo. Johnson posed with a maskless San Francisco Mayor London Breed and outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — and tagged Breed, Newsom and Garcetti in his Instagram posts.
For Newsom as well as Breed, the photo was yet another optics stumble. Newsom is seeing special outcry since he has presided over some of the nation’s strictest mask mandates across the state. Last year’s failed recall effort against the governor gained steam after photos circulated showing him dining unmasked with lobbyists at an exclusive restaurant during a late 2020 surge, as he asked Californians to avoid gatherings.
Breed had her own share of trouble after video emerged of her dancing maskless at an indoor show with R&B band Tony! Toni! Toné! last year while San Francisco remained under tight restrictions.
Sunday’s incident sparked particular ire among parents opposing the state’s mask requirements in schools. A Bay Area public school district briefly floated the idea of requiring tighter and more restrictive KN95 respiratory masks, although officials backed off following strong opposition.
Newsom told reporters that apart from the photo, he wore his mask almost exclusively throughout the game.
“I was very judicious yesterday, very judicious, and you’ll see the photo that I did take where Magic was kind enough, generous enough, to ask me for a photograph, and in my left hand’s a mask and I took a photo,” he said, although the mask is not clearly visible in the picture. “The rest of the time I wore it as we all should — not when I had a glass of water or anything, and I encourage everybody else to do so.”