It’s possible to envision an alternate reality where the Kansas City Chiefs don’t kick off training camp this week at Missouri Western State University.
With COVID-19, the delta variant and this county’s abysmally low vaccination rate, as well as the ease of training at home facilities, it would have been tempting to skip St. Joseph for another year.
Yet players, including star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, began arriving last week in preparation for the public start of camp Wednesday. This will prove to be a win for the city, for Missouri Western and, ultimately, for the team.
This camp belongs in St. Joseph, where Missouri Western has proven itself adept at ensuring an NFL-quality experience and players and coaches can bask in a Packers-like “big-fish-in-a-small-pond” atmosphere. This helps build cohesion for the grind of an 18-week regular season that now extends into the second week of January.
Beware of those who sniff that the community doesn’t get enough bang for its buck in terms of economic impact. They are the same ones who would take this camp in a heartbeat.
This will not, however, be like other camps. One of the attractions is the chance to interact with the players through autographs or selfies, but fans will find players in more of a bubble than usual because of ongoing pandemic concerns.
This is a small price to pay and one that the public should be willing to accept, given the alternative of no camp in St. Joseph. If anything, it drives home the reality that it’s important to get back to normal activities — getting kids in the classroom, reopening businesses and holding community events like the NFL training camp — while also acknowledging that’s it’s not realistic to flip a switch to the summer of 2019 when no one had ever heard of COVID.
From a health perspective, the need for social distancing and masks doesn’t go away, although the political appetite seems to be waning. Vaccinations provide the most assured path out of the nightmare of the last 18 months, something that the Chiefs staff and players seem to realize.
News arrived last week that the vaccination rate is 90% among Chiefs players and 100% among the coaching staff, a significant level of acceptance from a demographic that could be considered young and healthy.
Camp usually provides an opportunity for players to travel to schools or youth centers to warn on the dangers of things like drugs, alcohol or bullying. That’s fine, but maybe this year, with camp sponsored by the local hospital, it would be advisable for players to get out in the community (within the NFL bubble, of course) to extol the safety and effectiveness of the COVID vaccine to a skeptical local fan base.