February 4, 2021
By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif built an NFL career around protecting others but a deeper passion for healthcare convinced him to give up a shot at defending a Super Bowl championship with the Kansas City Chiefs to join the frontline battle against COVID-19.
Less than three months after helping the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory last February, Duvernay-Tardif put his medical degree to use by working as an orderly in a Montreal long-term care facility amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
By July, the Chiefs’ starting right guard decided to opt out of the entire 2020 NFL season, figuring if he was going to take any COVID-19-related risks he would rather it be through helping patients rather than playing football.
“That was for sure the hardest decision I had to make in my life,” Duvernay-Tardif told Reuters in a video interview from Montreal ahead of his team’s Super Bowl clash against hosts Tampa Bay on Sunday.
“But five years from now, 10 years from now and for the next 40 years I am going to be in the community of healthcare professionals so it made more sense for me to stay here and I feel like my role was here to contribute and fight the virus.”
That passion led to Duvernay-Tardif, an offensive lineman once tasked with protecting Chiefs standout quarterback Patrick Mahomes, taking on duties like feeding and changing patients, inserting IVs, doing blood draws and handing out medication.
And while Duvernay-Tardif’s decision meant his body got a break from the unrelenting physical toll NFL players endure throughout a season, his current role has proven just as taxing from an emotional standpoint.
For Duvernay-Tardif, the duty of transferring patients who tested positive for COVID-19 into the Montreal facility’s “red zone” where he said they faced long odds of ever leaving, is something that is “going to leave a mark for sure”.
Duvernay-Tardif said that when the NFL season kicked off last September he needed some space and so did not follow the Chiefs too closely but his efforts to tune out proved futile.
“You have those weird situations where you’re working on a Monday and all they talk about on TV is how good the Chiefs are in every patient’s room,” said Duvernay-Tardif. “You got to live with that. Suddenly you’re reminded of your decision.”
The 29-year-old Canadian said that while every big decision comes with a little bit of regret he remains confident he made the right move to trade in his NFL uniform for scrubs and that the Chiefs have been supportive the whole way.
Since putting his NFL career on hold, Duvernay-Tardif’s medical scrubs and lab coat were placed on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Duvernay-Tardif was even one of five athletes recognized as “Sportsperson of the Year: The Activist Athlete” by Sports Illustrated last December.
Duvernay-Tardif said he plans to be back with the Chiefs for the 2021 NFL season and so, given the lockdown restrictions related to the virus, built an outdoor gym at his Montreal home where he works out with snow-covered weights to stay in shape.
“I’m training outside right now because that’s all the space that I have,” said Duvernay-Tardif, who teamed up with Procter & Gamble disinfectant spray Microban 24 this week as part of its “Most Valuable Protector” campaign to honor frontline workers.
“The only thing that I can control is to make sure that I stay in shape and that I show up in a great mindset and physical condition to win my job back.”
Duvernay-Tardif has been in contact with Chiefs players this season but is also mindful of the high stakes nature of playoff football and so doesn’t want to interfere as they prepare to play on the game’s biggest stage.
Come Sunday, Duvernay-Tardif will be cheering on his Chiefs in their bid to become the first NFL team in 16 years to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
“I will be watching the game that’s for sure, all by myself because that’s all we are allowed to do, and I’ll be cheering for the Chiefs,” said Duvernay-Tardif.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)