Kirk Cousins loves fans of the Minnesota Vikings, but it sounds like he’d be more than fine if they weren’t able to show up at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NFL has already shifted to a virtual offseason that’s slated to get underway on April 20, but all team facilities have been closed indefinitely, leaving many to wonder if professional football will be forced to eventually yield as virtually every other sports league has.
The timing of the shutdown in sports has yet to clash with the NFL’s planned kickoff in September, but if it does, there could either be no games played or games played with no fans in attendance. If it turns out to be the latter, the football purist within Cousins admits he’d thoroughly enjoy it.
“Honestly, we practice every day in an empty grass area and pump in fake crowd noise for away games,” Cousins said on a recent media call, via ESPN. “But more often than not, you’re used to it. OTA practices don’t have a lot of pomp and circumstance to them. So honestly, to go out and just play the game would kind of be refreshing, a breath of fresh air, to just let us know that we don’t have to have all the smoke and the fire.
“We can just play football. So as long as we’re playing the game, I won’t have a lot of complaints, and hopefully if it’s still not returned to normal, we can find a way to make it work.”
Needless to say, not everyone shares Cousins’ view on the matter — including some other professional athletes. At one point, prior to the NBA taking the lead in suspending its season, LeBron James made it clear he would not play in empty arenas because fans are the reason for the game itself.
“We play games without the fans? Nah, that’s impossible,” James said ahead of the NBA hitting pause indefinitely, via the Associated Press. “I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about.
“So if I show up to an arena and there ain’t no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do.”
James would later walk back his comments a bit, but his point regarding the importance of fans remains poignant.
For while Cousins would find it “refreshing” to lack all the pomp and circumstance, the reality is the rabid success of the NFL is mostly due to the insatiable appetite of the fans, who show up to venues weekly in droves to spend not just their time, but also their money on merchandise. This all helps to fuel the construction of shiny new arenas like U.S. Bank Stadium — which are designed specifically to awe fans and to keep them funneling in to cheer on their beloved team.
The element of home-field advantage is also mostly predicated upon the presence of fans, and that’s something most NFL coaches and players plan for and around annually. It’s unclear when large gatherings will again be possible though, and until they are, Cousins isn’t exactly broken up the idea of playing in front of empty seats.