Artist Doug Wager has airbrushed bricks and walls on ice hockey goalie masks for more than 25 years.
But including the image of President Donald Trump – who declared a national emergency last month in his latest attempt to build a multibillion dollar barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border – on a mask building a wall was a new one for Wager.
“They asked if I wanted to paint it and I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’ ” Wager told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “Personally, I would have picked something different. It’s a hot topic. It’d be a bit too far for me if it was my mask.”
Trump is featured prominently with a trowel in one hand and a brick in the other on a mask that was delivered last month to a 14-year-old male who plays for the Palmyra (Pennsylvania) Black Knights. Wager, who is based in the Philadelphia area, described the parents of the youth goalie as Trump supporters who work for a family-owned business in central Pennsylvania.
“It’s freedom of expression,” Wager said. “It’s not like they wanted a Mexican flag with a slash through it or anything like that. I think they wanted to be funny. Normally, there’s no reason why anyone would be upset over having the President of the United States on a mask. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that people take offense to and, in my opinion, it’s a willful act to be outraged.”
There have been some strong reactions – mixed with praise for the design – on social media. A Twitter account dedicated to goalies and the gear they wear, @Tendy_Gear, posted pictures of the Trump mask Monday. That tweet has since been deleted, but others have circulated with comments about the pictures on the helmet.
The father of the youth player declined to talk to USA TODAY Sports on the record. Messages left with the Palmyra Black Knights were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Wager said the goalie’s parents paid about $900, which included the cost of the mask and the custom paint job. Wager, who started his custom goalie art mask business in 1992, has averaged about 100 masks per year over the last decade.
His clients include Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garrett Sparks along with goalies who play in the minor leagues and the college, junior, youth and beer league levels.
Wager said painting political or historical figures is rare, although he did design a Civil War-themed mask with Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee on opposite sides of a helmet for a goalie in Northern Virginia.
While politics aren’t off-limits, Wager said he doesn’t use images of violence or sexually suggestive imagery for masks that are used on the ice. He also said he doesn’t discuss his political views publicly, but added he didn’t expect the Trump mask will hurt his business.
“What’s that saying? There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Wager said. “The hockey community tends to be more conservative. I’m pretty embedded in the hockey world, so I’m not too worried.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ A.J. Perez on Twitter @byajperez