Nearly one year after winning a Super Bowl as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, offensive lineman-turned-doctor Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is opening up about his decision to temporarily step away from football in 2020 in order to work on the front lines of the pandemic in his native Quebec.
The 29-year-old has been celebrated for enlisting as an orderly at an extended-care facility in Montreal, and was even named one of four recipients of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the year award in 2020. However, with the Chiefs back in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Duvernay-Tardif admitted to the Washington Post that he may end up regretting the move in spite of his good intentions.
‘It was never black or white,’ said Duvernay-Tardif, who was speaking before the Chiefs’ AFC title game win over Buffalo on January 24. ‘As the season progressed and the stakes are higher, I do miss football even more, especially now with the playoffs. There’s more than one way to look at it, and it’s not always simple.’
‘But who knows?’ he later added. ‘Who knows how I’m going to feel 10 years from now?’
Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (76) speaks to the media during the Kansas City Chiefs press conference prior to Super Bowl LIV on January 29, 2020 at the JW Marriott Miami
Duvernay-Tardif has been celebrated for his decision to enlist as an orderly at an extended-care facility battling coronavirus , and was even named one of four recipients of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the year award in 2020. However, with the Chiefs back in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Duvernay-Tardif admitted to the Washington Post that he may end up regretting the move in spite of his good intentions
The decision marked an obvious departure for Duvernay-Tardif, worked at an extended care facility over the summer before deciding to take a sabbatical in 2020.
Complicating the choice was the fluctuating need for front-line healthcare workers in Canada. Duvernay-Tardif, who received his medical degree from the prestigious McGill University, was seeing case numbers trend downwards in the days ahead of his decision to step away from football.
‘Was I too crazy?’ Duvernay-Tardif asked himself. ‘Was I over-concerned by all this?’
‘I saw him very conflicted for those two weeks,’ said Sasha Ghavami, a childhood friend and now Duvernay-Tardif’s agent. ‘It was difficult for him to know what to do. He loves football. He loves his teammates. He loves to win.’
By July, Duvernay-Tardif decided to focus on the pandemic, rather than football, first telling Ghavami of his choice and then Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who publicly offered his support.
‘It’s tremendous dedication to his profession … and mainly to the people that he gets to help,’ Reid said later.
Although he has his medical degree, Duvernay-Tardif’s inexperience meant that he would not be asked to work as a doctor, but rather an orderly. As a result, Duvernary-Tardif said he has a newfound respect for both nurses and orderlies, most of whom have forgone vacations to work an emotionally taxing job.
The 29-year-old Canadian graduated from McGill with a degree in medicine in May 2018
In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs’ Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, center, receives the National Assembly of Quebec Medal of Honour from Speaker Francois Paradis, right, while Quebec Premier Francois Legault, left, looks on at the legislature in Quebec City, Quebec. Duvernay-Tardif has gone from the offensive line to the front line, using the medical degree he completed during offseasons with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs to help patients during the COVID-19 pandemic
Often, he said, nurses and orderlies are asked to comfort one dying patient before turning around and putting on a brave face for another.
‘The definition of what it means to be a hero changed because of those people,’ Duvernay-Tardif said.
‘Those people that are there for the past 20 years, it’s crazy,’ he added. ‘I have so much respect for them. … The amount of sacrifice is unbelievable. I feel like I’m going to be a better physician down the road because of that experience. I understood what it was all about.’
His job description has fluctuated over the seven months he’s battled coronavirus. Sometimes he would perform nursing duties, like administering IVs, and at others, he would handle tasks like feeding and bathing patients.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif gets set to drop the ceremonial puck along with Brendan Gallagher #11 of the Montreal Canadiens and Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 the Arizona Coyotes at the Bell Centre on February 10, 2020 in Montreal
Super Bowl champion Laurent Duvernay-Tardif poses with an ice sculpture of the Vince Lombardi Trophy during an event to celebrate his win, in Montreal, Sunday, February 9, 2020
As he began to understand the dire circumstances facing some patients, he says he started to focus on their comfort and dignity in their final days.
He primarily worked in what was described as a ‘yellow zone,’ but when patients tested positive for COVID-19, he was forced to take them to the ‘red zone,’ which for many, was a death sentence.
One patience actually grabbed the door frame as Duvernay-Tardif attempted to wheel him away.
‘I was working there two to three days a week, and I don’t see how I could have done more,’ he said. ‘Not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint but from an emotional standpoint.’
September was particularly bad, said Duvernay-Tardiff, who frequently made the trip from the yellow to the red zone that month.
‘And then you cross your fingers they come back up,’ he said of his patients. ‘And some don’t.’
Duvernay-Tardiff, center, has spent seven months as an orderly at the long-term care facility
One young man, who had been in an accident, was denied much human contact for weeks until Duvernay-Tardiff arranged a FaceTime call with the patient’s wife.
The couple mostly just cried, he said.
‘You cry, too,’ Duvernay-Tardif said. ‘What else is there to do?’
After renting an apartment in Montreal so as not to put his live-in girlfriend at risk at their home, Duvernay-Tardiff was given December off and has since received a vaccine dose before returning to work. He still hopes to return to football, but he wants to use his platform in the NFL to encourage people to take the pandemic and other health issues seriously.
‘Division in a time of crisis is so detrimental,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to trust the science. We’ve got to stay together. That’s how we’re going to get through this. That’s why we need sport, too. You forget about politics, you forget about everything, and you focus on something that brings people together. We need more of that. … And we’ve got to acknowledge that some people are making a tremendous amount of sacrifices to keep us safe.’