Canadian NFL player joined the COVID-19 front line. Here's what he learned
Offensive guard and medical graduate has been working in Quebec long-term care home
Originally published on Jan. 26, 2021
A Canadian NFL player who traded his jersey for scrubs to fight on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic says he felt a responsibility to support something he believes in: health.
"Of course I miss [football]," Laurent Duvernay-Tardif told The Current's Matt Galloway.
But, he said, major life decisions are never "black or white."
"Five years from now, I'm going to be able to look at 2020 and be like, 'Alright, I followed my conviction and I made a move that I'm going to be proud of.' "
Duvernay-Tardif made waves last year when he decided to work during the off-season as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Montreal, not far from his hometown of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que. The Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard, who holds a medical degree from McGill University and is working to become a doctor (he still has to complete a residency), was fresh off a Super Bowl win.
In July, he took the decision a step further by opting out of the 2020 NFL season altogether so he could continue to fight the pandemic, making him the first football player to put his career on hold because of COVID-19. He also spent the fall taking classes at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Newest artifacts to arrive at The Hall: medical scrubs & lab coat of <a href="https://twitter.com/LaurentDTardif?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LaurentDTardif</a>.<br><br>The starting OG for the <a href="https://twitter.com/Chiefs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Chiefs</a> in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SuperBowl?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SuperBowl</a> LIV, he stepped away from his football career this season to utilize his doctorate in medicine to help fight the COVID pandemic.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ChiefsKingdom?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ChiefsKingdom</a> <a href="https://t.co/1wOIxiXBU1">pic.twitter.com/1wOIxiXBU1</a>—@ProFootballHOF
The 29-year-old was later honoured as co-winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy, which is handed out each year to Canada's top athlete. Sports Illustrated named him a Sportsperson of the Year, and his lab coat and medical scrubs were also placed on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Duvernay-Tardif admits that when the pandemic first started, he was caught up in how it would interrupt his off-season and his plans for the year ahead.
"Of course, after like a few days, you realize that you're really privileged," he said. "And my mindset went to ... how can I help?"
Experience will 'leave a mark'
When the Quebec government pleaded for health-care workers to help care for elderly residents in the province's overburdened long-term care homes last spring, the football star knew it was his chance to contribute.
"At the beginning, I went in there with really a mindset of trying to optimize everything, a little bit like a medical student," Duvernay-Tardif said.
WATCH | Duvernay-Tardif describes working in long-term care home:
"What I realized after spending time with the nurses, the [orderlies] down there, [is] that what matters is comfort, it's dignity, and really the difference between treating and caring for a patient," he said.
It's an experience Duvernay-Tardif said will "leave a mark" on him and many other health-care workers, and it speaks to "the sacrifice and the dedication" needed to get through these difficult times.
But just like football, it takes a "team effort" to get the work done, he said.
"That's really what makes a difference," he said. "In order to give good continuity of care, good quality of care, you need to be able to pass along information and work as a team the same way [you've] got to be working as a team in football."
His idea of what makes a hero has changed
Duvernay-Tardif has suggested he'll be making a return to the football field in 2021. It's no secret he misses the sport.
WATCH | Duvernay-Tardif on hanging his medical scrubs in Pro Football Hall of Fame:
But as much as he's honoured by the awards and recognition he's received as a football star over the past year, he said his idea of what makes a "hero" has changed a lot throughout the pandemic.
He described recognizing the "dedication" and "passion" of one nurse he worked with who regularly pulled overtime or started her shift early, at 4 a.m.
"And nobody is there to, like, pat them on the back and say, 'Good job,' or give them awards or [an] opportunity to talk on the radio," Duvernay-Tardif said.
"They're doing it because they really care. And so I feel like being humble — or at least trying to — is really the least I can do when I see all those people working like that."
Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Susan Mckenzie.