No position in professional sports takes on more of a responsibility as a leader than quarterbacks.
Amid COVID-19 vaccination debates spiraling around the NFL, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has become the proverbial lightning rod for debate. His leadership was called into question for being unvaccinated after the national spotlight shined on Vikings training camp on July 31st — the day Cousins and two other Minnesota quarterbacks were withheld from practice due to COVID-19 protocols.
However, many QBs around the league have not been subject to the same scrutiny. Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady has remained silent on the issue, while Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has caught the virus twice and didn’t face nearly the same media hellfire.
But for Cousins, the scrutiny is nothing new.
He’s been stoked in smoldering criticism throughout his career and has shown resolve that has won the respect of Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen.
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‘He Doesn’t Care What People Say’
Thielen spoke on KFAN’s Paul Allen before Thursday’s practice and addressed what Allen called “elevator music” surrounding Cousins’ vaccination status.
Thielen, who said he was unvaccinated in June, showed nothing but support for his quarterback that he connected with for a career-high 14 touchdowns a season ago.
“He doesn’t care what people say, how people feel about him, what a coach says about him,” Thielen said. “He’s going to be the same guy and he’s going to have passion and energy and is a great teammate.”
Thielen credited Cousins for his ability to tune out the background noise surrounding his career — be it his 51-51-2 career record or not winning his first playoff game until his eighth season in the NFL.
Cousins has persevered and progressed as a quarterback. His 43-yard connection with Adam Thielen set up a walk-off touchdown to Kyle Rudolph clinched an NFC Wild Card round upset over the New Orleans Saints in the 2019 postseason. He followed up his first postseason victory by throwing a career-high 35 touchdowns in 2020.
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Thielen added that Cousins’ character has helped him be better — both on and off the field.
“He’s pushed me to be a better person,” Thielen said. “They see things that are said about him but he’s a good human being. He has a great heart and means well with everything he’s got.”
COVID-19 Remains a Concern
However, they both face a similar fate as unvaccinated players entering this season which the NFL has set harsher COVID-19 protocols this season.
Minnesota got a taste of the impact of the new protocols when Cousins and Nate Stanley were placed on the COVID-19 list last week after being classified as “high-risk” close contacts with Kellen Mond, who is unvaccinated and tested positive for COVID-19 on July 31.
Jake Browning was the only quarterback available when all three QBs were deemed unsafe to practice. Cousins and Stanley were forced to isolate for five days before returning to practice on Aug. 5 despite producing six negative tests throughout their absence.
Had it been the regular season, Cousins would have missed a game — a risk that all unvaccinated players face whether they contract the virus or not.
The Vikings were last reported as the least vaccinated team in the NFL with 70%, per the Washington Post on Aug. 3. The Washington Post reported that 90% of NFL players are at least partially vaccinated.