Commissioner Roger Goodell: NFL expects to have full stadiums for 2021 season

After a season unlike any other, with tarped-off rows of seats and fans spread sporadically with limited capacity at best, the NFL is preparing for a return to normalcy.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday the league expects to have full stadiums during the 2021 season.

The statement is a significant departure from the reality of the 2020 season, in which some teams went entirely without fans for a whole season, while others allowed reduced capacities in accordance with local and state guidelines.

When fans were in the stands, they were masked and required to remain distanced, and by the time Super Bowl LV arrived, a good portion of Raymond James Stadium's seats were filled not with humans, but cardboard cutouts scattered among the fans lucky enough to secure a seat to watch the sport's most significant contest. Despite these circumstances, the league was still able to welcome a total of 1.2 million fans to its games in 2020.

Goodell said much time was spent Tuesday at the Annual League Meeting -- which is taking place virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic -- speaking about vaccines and education for players, coaches and staff to encourage all to get vaccinated, NFL Media's Judy Battista reported.

Goodell's Tuesday tone was, as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero tweeted, strikingly optimistic with kickoff just five months away. Thanks to ramped up vaccination efforts across the nation, the hope is the football world can return to life as it knew it before the pandemic by the time kickoff weekend arrives.

With progress still to be made on the vaccination front and nearly half of a year's worth of time remaining, a positive, hopeful approach is understandable. And while the NFL did a remarkable job in devising and directing testing, distancing, masking and quarantining efforts that set a standard other sports have since replicated, the league will again aim to take a leading role in the push toward a return to a more normal reality for sports and American life.

While at this point it's too early to say for certain whether this will become a reality, it's at the very least an optimistic approach following a year spent away from friends, family and for many, football. Here's to hoping plenty can return to the ever-growing game in 2021.

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