“The Dallas Cowboys plan on playing all our football games, and we plan on playing ’em in front of our fans,” he said at a press conference Wednesday marking the opening of training camp. In terms of the stadium setup, “We’ve got some adjustments to make. We’re going to make ’em with enthusiasm and we’re going to make ’em with ‘can-do.'”
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With 3 million square feet and a capacity to host more than 100,000 fans, AT&T Stadium is one of the largest sports venues in the world. The state of Texas has seen a surge in COVID-19 infection rates, reaching 523,013 total cases and 9,307 deaths. It is operating under restrictions imposed by government officials, including a cap on public venues at 50% of their usual capacity.
Jones declined to speculate on an exact number of fans expected to attend. But he said their presence would have larger symbolic meaning. “I think it’s important,” he said. “I think it’s important individually. I think it’s important for the country.”
The NFL’s return “can be an inspirational part of how we address COVID, not only this year but how we go into 2021.”
TV networks have a lot riding on the safety rigor of the NFL, a multibillion-dollar property that generates massive advertising dollars and dominates the charts of most-watched programming.
Jones cited AT&T Stadium’s retractable-roof design, which he said makes it capable of allowing a “serious, serious air current” and a “naturally built air flow” that he said will help keep fans, players and coaches safe. A team of experts has done an “extensive” safety evaluation of the stadium, Jones added, and fans deciding to attend will have to acknowledge they are doing so “of their own volition.”
The proclamations at Cowboys camp came the morning after HBO aired the first episode of its annual preseason series Hard Knocks, the NFL Films-produced behind-the-scenes series. Focusing this year on both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers as they get set to open their first season at SoFi Stadium, the show featured a considerable amount of pandemic safety discussion. Like Texas, California also has been hit by a rise in virus infections this summer.
With players not allowed to wear pads during the opening weeks of camp, more of the action centered on the efforts of coaches and players to cope with face coverings, social distancing and nasal-swab tests. At one point, Rams head coach Sean McVay complains that when he speaks to someone wearing a mask, he is unnerved by not being able to read their facial expression. “Are you laughing? Are you crying?” he asks. In one clip from the episode shared widely on social media, he wears a clear face visor, jokingly comparing it to a welder’s shield and saying he should bring a blowtorch to practice.
Fall football will look quite a bit different in the college ranks this year as well. After the Big Ten and Pac-12 called off their fall sports seasons Tuesday, saying they hope to resume football next spring, the Big 12, ACC and SEC affirmed their plans to play as usual. Notre Dame, which is not affiliated with a football conference, also plans to play.
That means nearly 40 teams, including perennial title contenders such as LSU, Alabama and Clemson, will be on the field, even as Ohio State, UCLA and others are sidelined.
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