Asya Herron and her group of friends enjoyed the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV banner being lifted before the start of the 2020 NFL season. They felt even better when the Chiefs thoroughly dominated the Houston Texans 34-20 last Thursday to secure win number one on the year at Arrowhead Stadium.
While a banner-raising ceremony and attending a football game is pretty normal for those blessed with the opportunity to experience Super Bowl champions in person, the aura was quite different due to obvious circumstances: the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
First, to even experience a game in person is a rare occurrence in 2020 as high school, college and professional athletics were canceled or postponed in March, and even now many sports in different states have been halted. Teams in the off-season announced whether or not fans would be allowed at live games, as owners and management of each NFL franchise aligned their decisions with state and local health guidelines, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some NFL stadiums in 2020 have fans, some don’t. But there are no stadiums this year that have 100 percent occupancy.
Luckily, Arrowhead is one of the stadiums where fans can be in attendance, as the team announced in August that its stadium will be at 22 percent capacity, which is a huge difference from 76,416 fans, or 100 percent occupancy. Herron, former coach of the Neosho County Community College volleyball team who is now an assistant volleyball coach for Kansas City Kansas Community College, immediately felt the difference at Arrowhead as soon as she stepped out of the vehicle and into the stadium parking lot.
“(The) experience was a little bit different just with the social distancing and wearing masks, but everybody was in good spirits and it was fun,” she said. “It was obviously great to get a win as a Chiefs fan, especially after coming off such a good time from winning a Super Bowl.”
Kansas City’s Super Bowl celebration was cut short due to the state of the country. COVID-19 has taken tens of thousands of lives since the beginning of 2020 and organizations around the world have taken preventative measures to stop the spread. As Herron and her group were moving around the parking lot, hordes of people needed to stay with their groups in specific spots in the parking lot.
Everyone was wearing masks and very much self-conscious about keeping their social distance several feet apart. Herron and her group didn’t get their temperatures taken, but those who were to sit in suites had their temperatures checked. Since more than six people weren’t allowed in a single area, folks who rented suites with more than six people had their temperatures checked.
As people awaited the start of the game, the Texans stayed in their locker room during the national anthem. Then, the “Moment of Unity” took place, a concept conceived partly by Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Texans QB Deshaun Watson, according to Sports Illustrated.
In this demonstration, both the Texans and Chiefs lined up next to one another, locking arms, in an effort to highlight players’ grievances and a willingness to fight social injustice. Several phrases appeared on the Arrowhead scoreboard, including “We Support Equality,” “We Must End Racism,” “We Believe in Justice for All,” We Must End Police Brutality,” “We Choose Unconditional Love,” “We Believe Black Lives Matter,” and “It Takes All of Us.”
These messages are of significance because of the protests and demonstrations transpiring all over the world due to the deaths of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, and caught on social media. But when the “Moment of Unity” started at Arrowhead, it was said that the fans decided to boo.
There are many accounts from different perspectives as to what actually happened. Some people on social media have stated the fans weren’t booing, while others have said they did hear it. Some have expressed that the boos were only when the Texans ran out on the field. Other folks insist that the boos were not happening during the Jumbotron display of all the unity messages.
“The booing was unfortunate during that moment,” Texans All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt said to Sports Illustrated. “I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved, there was nothing involved with that besides two teams coming together to show unity.”
After the demonstration, Herron celebrated the game as the Chiefs throttled the Texans on a ceremonious day, albeit with social distancing and wearing masks.
If people in a group weren’t wearing their masks, security was quick to come over and enforce the rule. Unlike usual, lines to bathrooms weren’t that long and everyone was handwashing and sanitizing. Measures were taken for those standing in lines at concession stands, including a plexiglass sheet that separated fans from employees; food was given through a slit in the plexiglass.
“It was definitely an awesome experience. A unique one, definitely different, but it felt more like you were going to a Pitt State and Northwest game at the stadium than it did necessarily you doing to a Chiefs home opener,” Herron said. “Everybody seemed excited to be there. Most of the people were very careful and cognizant of the situation, gave each other space and kept their masks on.”
The Chiefs (1-0) next play the LA Chargers on the road, 3:25 pm Sunday on CBS.