EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf is eagerly anticipating the return of fans to U.S. Bank Stadium.
He also wants to make sure those fans, as well as Vikings players, coaches and staff, prioritize their own health as well as other fans during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Wilf spoke to Twin Cities media members from the Valhalla Ballroom at the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel Tuesday morning. While the Vikings won't host a regular-season home game until Week 3, he's already envisioning the atmosphere after last season's games were played in front of empty purple seats.
"It's going to be special. U.S. Bank Stadium is, we think – and we know – the best facility in the world. And having our fans back – you're talking almost a year-and-a-half since fans have been back to the facility. So the energy will be high," Wilf said. "We still have training camp, preseason, a couple regular-season games before we get back to here to a home regular-season game, but it's going to be loud, boisterous, and hopefully tough for our opponents to play."
That being said, Wilf is urging everyone to approach the fight against COVID-19 with the same enthusiasm as game day.
He noted that Vikings Ownership is "very concerned" about perceived vaccine hesitancy by some players among many others in the general population.
"I think it's safe to say that our number-one priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community," Wilf emphasized. "From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.
"We're proud of the fact that we've partnered with the State of Minnesota to have [Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center] used as a vaccination center in the offseason," he continued. "We just want everybody to follow the protocols, [and] we're trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the Delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That's the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization."
NFL teams are not allowed to require players to be vaccinated.
But continued education of the entire team will continue to be a focus.
"We've worked with [Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer] and [General Manager Rick Spielman] on this, and we're really approaching it [where] all conversations are to the team [as a whole]. That's the standpoint we come from," Wilf said. "[Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman, our entire medical team, they're really making sure that everyone has the full facts, that there's not any misinformation about this and to [help people] understand all the ramifications of these decisions."
Zimmer expressed frustration about the issue Saturday when three quarterbacks – including starter Kirk Cousins – were unable to practice due to the NFL's COVID-19 protocols. He doubled down on that disappointment Monday when the QBs, along with wide receiver Myron Mitchell, were added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
"I've talked to the team about it, you know, about some of the things going on. Our guys have been pretty good about it, really. I'm probably the most vocal out of all of them," Zimmer said. "I just feel like we're going to have guys miss games. There are so many cases going on right now. We're going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it."
Strictly talking football, there's no denying the impact an outbreak among unvaccinated players could potentially have. (Note: A vaccinated player could still test positive for the virus, but vaccinated individuals will not be counted as close contacts if they're exposed and will not be required to miss playing time).
"The fact is, we're encouraging vaccinations. We're talking about a serious health pandemic, and it's something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they're fully informed of what's involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way – in terms of making sure we provide the resources as ownership that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts."
Wilf was asked his thoughts about the reality of the risk.
"Of course, there's also a competitive aspect to it; we recognize that," Wilf said. "But we've really come about it from that standpoint of making sure we educate and get the facts to everybody so they can make the right decisions … We want to encourage vaccinations.
"We're talking about a serious health pandemic, and it's something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they're fully informed of what's involved here," Wilf later added. "From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this in the right way – in terms of making sure we provide the resources as ownership that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts."
It's imperative, Wilf asserted, that the Minnesota Vikings utilize their platform in whatever way possible to aid against the pandemic.
"We want to make sure we set the right example, and the message is we provide in terms of making sure people get vaccinated. It's something we are very supportive of and trying to encourage," Wilf said. "We're constantly working with state and local officials for whatever they're going to need from a resource standpoint community-wise, we're certainly eager to help on that front. And that includes, like we had in the offseason, vaccination centers.
"And whatever messaging we can provide to help the state and public health officials, we're eager to do so," he added.
Here are other topics Wilf covered during his media session:
Allegations against Gladney 'disturbing'
Wilf was asked about Tuesday morning reports that cornerback Jeff Gladney has been indicted by a grand jury on domestic charges made against him back in April.
Wilf did not mince words when reacting to the situation surrounding the 2020 first-round pick.
"Obviously allegations like these are very disturbing and something that's concerning to us as ownership and to our organization," Wilf said. "The news you're just talking about just apparently hit a couple minutes ago, so right now our GM and our coach, and we're talking to the league, and really working through to understand this better.
"As we get more information, we'll let you know where we go on this. But obviously the allegations are very disturbing," he reiterated.
Campaign to bring NFL Combine to Minneapolis
The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine will mark the final one that's automatically held in Indianapolis, giving other locations around the league a chance to vie for the opportunity to host.
Wilf confirmed that the Vikings have put in a bid to host the combine any year between 2023-27. He referenced the success U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minneapolis community had in hosting Super Bowl LII in February 2018.
"I think we've proved in Super Bowl LII that this community knows how to handle big events, really embraces it. There's a culture here of really embracing the big events," Wilf said, "so we feel both the combine and the NFL Draft, we've put our hat in the ring, if you will, to compete for those because the corporate community, the fans, everybody is super passionate here and would be great partners to make this happen. We're encouraging the league to think seriously about this, and hopefully they'll consider us as a great venue for that."