Kirk Cousins is not endangering anyone. He’s not showing disrespect to anyone who has died of Covid-19. He’s not making a political statement. Just calm down and listen:
If anything, he is showing loyalty, respect and grace.
“If I die, I die,’’ he said on Kyle Brandt’s “10 Questions’’ podcast on Spotify, when asked about how afraid he is of the virus.
That set off a storm on Wednesday. And it was so easy — as it took just 15 characters in anyone’s tweet to show Cousins’ whole statement — to express outrage and vilify him. Cousins had to come back Wednesday, on a day when the Vikings quarterback was not planning to talk with the media and the team didn’t practice, to clarify what he meant.
But the truth is Cousins had barely even been talking about the virus. He was talking about his team.
What you actually saw was the mentality of a tough-guy, a football guy speaking from the viewpoint of someone who grew up in the football culture.
So I called a coach known for his old-school approach, Mark Mangino, to ask how he interpreted Cousins’ words.
“I think he’s trying to display leadership to his locker room,’’ said Mangino, the former Kansas coach. “As a coach, I appreciate that. I respect his toughness. He was just trying to show that `I’m all in. I’m here to win.’ “
Mangino transformed Kansas into an Orange Bowl champ, won several national coach of the year awards and then lost his job two years later because the school deemed his methods were too tough. Old-school coaches analogize football to war, and we now live in a country that’s opposed to the military mindset used to build competitors.
Mangino said Cousins was displaying the team mentality, which is now an issue for every football player at every level.
“If I die, I die. He’s saying he’s willing to make the supreme sacrifice for playing the sport of football,’’ Mangino said. “I’m not telling you he made the right quote there. But when you look at the symbolism to coaches and the fan base, it’s that he’s all in. He probably could have said it a better way.
“No matter how much you love playing the game, those guys, probably from the time they were 8, 9 years old, they played football every fall of their life. So they want to play. But I don’t believe every single NFL player, college player or high school player does not have it in the back of their mind that we are in a serious time in our country and our world with this pandemic.’’
Football players have been taught to think this way, to look past physical risks. To play football is to take a chance with your body and your health. And you have to put that out of your head in the same way an Indy driver has to clear his head of the possibility of a crash.
Football players know the risks, have seen the injuries. They play through the risks of CTE. If they get hurt, they get hurt.
Mangino said he respects any player who opts out this year. He also respects players who choose to play.
This is how overzealous critics work. They are taking one piece of something Cousins said and fitting it neatly into their philosophy. They are not bothering to put it in the context of the football culture that Cousins is from, or even to listen to what he was actually trying to say in his interview.
Cousins said that wearing a mask is “really about being respectful to other people. It really has nothing to do with my own personal thoughts.’’
What he was saying in the interview — which apparently took place in July even though it wasn’t released until Wednesday — was that he follows the protocols for other people. He respects their views.
He’s being thoughtful. For some people it’s not enough to act a certain way. You have to think that way, too. So the Vikings dragged Cousins out Wednesday to explain.
“What I wanted to say then, what I would echo again now, is that while the virus does not give me a great amount of personal fear,’’ Cousins said, “there’s still great reason for me to engage in wearing a mask and social distancing and washing my hands as frequently as I can and following protocols that have been set in place, obviously, to be respectful and considerate to other people.’’
He’s there for other people. He’s there for his team and the fans. And he’s ready to go.
Just like he’s been taught.