From NFL Right Guard to Nursing Aid, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has found himself working on the front lines amid the greatest global health threat in his lifetime. His journey in 2020 has been wildly unpredictable and unfeasible, but much like his performance in Super Bowl LIV, Duvernay-Tardif tackled the pandemic head on, putting aside his chance for another championship to help his community.
Just months ago, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was at the peak of his NFL career as the confetti rained down on him and his teammates following their victory in Super Bowl LIV. Duvernay-Tardif, who started at right guard for the Kansas City football team through the regular season and the playoffs, seemed poised to continue dominating with his team during the next season. As COVID-19 cases rose globally in early 2020, Duvernay-Tardif could be seen cheering and smiling as his team paraded through downtown Kansas City after bringing home the city’s first elusive Super Bowl victory in 50 years. Duvernay-Tardif remarked that after the celebrations had cooled down, he was “ready to rest and dive back in and resume training with a fresh mindset.”
Then, the unthinkable became our new reality of living in the United States during the pandemic.
Like most people across the globe, Duvernay-Tardif’s life was immediately put on hold by the pandemic. Duvernay-Tardif is Canadian, so while he was stuck across the border from his teammates and coaches, he faced a similarly precarious situation with quarantines and lockdowns. However, his story was a little different from most of his teammates. Duvernay-Tardif, while being a championship-caliber football player, also holds a doctorate in medicine, a noteworthy accomplishment for the fourth NFL player in history to have graduated from medical school. While most football players spent their quarantine itching to get back on the field and prepare for the upcoming season, Duvernay-Tardif’s public health expertise led him to question his role in fighting the pandemic.
Duvernay-Tardif thought about his privilege: being able to comfortably stay at home during this period of lockdown while his former classmates were working on the front lines, risking their lives to ensure public safety during the pandemic that ravaged the globe. He made sure to share information through his social media, aiming to use his platform to educate the public on the dangerous realities of COVID-19, but still felt like he was not doing enough.
In April, Duvernay-Tardif decided he wanted to work in the field during the pandemic and began working at a long-term care facility on the South Shore of Quebec, playing a nursing role to help out medical professionals who had been tirelessly laboring for weeks to fight the spread of the virus. He spent the next few months working at this care facility and after much deliberation decided to opt out of the 2020 NFL season. Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to choose to sit out the 2020 season out of precaution because of the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the NFL, having athletes like Duvernay-Tardif put their careers on hold to benefit the public during a crisis serves as a strong reminder of the power athletes have within the community. The NFL crowns one player a season with the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for work in the community. Typically this award goes to players who facilitate valuable charity work within their communities. While this is meaningful, no players have had quite the impact.
Duvernay-Tardif deserves this award. His choice to put communal gain above his own, when it would be easier to rest during the pandemic in preparation for another NFL season, is admirable and noteworthy. This also leaves the NFL with a prime opportunity to remind its players of the power of their platform and actively support the community during these tough times. Most players do not have the same level of expertise in fields of medicine and global health to work with nurses on the front lines like Duvernay-Tardif, but local communities are struggling because of the economic and social crises of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
The NFL should encourage teams and players to aid the community, from serving meals to the homeless, donating to organizations and charities in need or organizing clothing drives to help some of the millions of Americans who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
Duvernay-Tardif is a powerful example of how football players can put their careers on pause to contribute to the larger, communal good, despite the loss of economic gains and collection of accolades. While every football player runs on the field aiming to win the championship, Duvernay-Tardif may win the most impressive trophy by helping his community in a time of need. With more players following in Duvernay-Tardif’s footsteps to prioritize their communities over themselves, the NFL can establish itself as a philanthropic leader in the sports world for years to come.
Eli Kales is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Off-Court Voices appears online every other week.