The NFL season is scheduled to start in less than five months, but it's possible games will be played without fans this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Noting he's used to playing without fans for offseason team activity practices and that contests without "pomp and circumstance" could be "refreshing," Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins seemed unfazed by that possibility in a recent conference call with reporters (h/t Courtney Cronin of ESPN):
"Honestly, we practice every day in an empty grass area and pump in fake crowd noise for away games. 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."
Cousins isn't the only star trying to look at the bright side.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that playing in normally boisterous road environments such as Seattle or New Orleans sans fans "will make my job [a] lot easier."
Players might have to get used to that possibility.
Per the latest World Health Organization numbers, at least 553,822 people have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 21,972 people have died. At least 29,308 new cases occurred on Monday alone.
However, the U.S. and the rest of the world are in the fight against COVID-19 for the long haul, making gatherings of tens of thousands of people for games, concerts and other events seem impossible for quite some time.
Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who is the vice provost for global initiatives and director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, said the following in a panel discussion with New York Times Magazine on April 10: "Larger gatherings—conferences, concerts, sporting events—when people say they're going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that's a plausible possibility. I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically we're talking fall 2021 at the earliest."
Ultimately, professional sports without fans might become the norm when they initially return, creating an odd atmosphere in which a game could closely resemble the sights and sounds of the OTA practices Cousins referenced.