KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While people across the world are battling COVID-19, at least one NFL player is joining the fight first-hand.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has been a starter at right guard for the Super Bowl champions for the past five seasons which is quite an accomplishment. Consider that he also earned his doctorate in medicine from McGill University in 2018, and has spent the past week putting it to use at a long-term care facility near his hometown of Montreal.
His willingness to chip in during the worst pandemic in a century may go down as the greater achievement.
“At the end of the day, I think you have to look at a young, fit individual working in an at-risk environment with the best protective gear possible,” Duvernay-Tardif told reporters during a conference call Friday morning. “I think that’s the best way to fight this thing, and that’s why I want to contribute.”
Duvernay-Tardif is the first active NFL player to graduate from medical school. Since he’s not in a residency program due to the time required to play football and he doesn’t have a license to practice yet, he’s currently working as an orderly, a hospital assistant responsible for nonmedical care of patients and the maintenance of order and cleanliness.
“It was kind of hard to jump in as a physician, because I’m not really at this specific time,” Duvernay-Tardif said.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t contributing to the cause. The average patient at the facility he works at is around 80 years old, he says, and while he doesn’t have much experience with geriatric patients, that’s where the Canadian health care department told him he was needed because of the increasing number of cases and the fact that the people who work at those facilities are getting sick, too.
“We’re wearing our masks all day long, throughout the whole shift, and you’re washing your hands,” said Duvernay-Tardif, who is also doing some nursing tasks like handing out medication and making sure patients are OK. “There’s so many precautionary measures in place in order to protect both you and the patients that it just makes everything heavier in terms of tasks; that’s why they need so many people.
“Yes, there’s a lot of medical professionals that have been sick from COVID or are in quarantine right now, but there’s also just more work to do on every floor. So that’s why they need people and that’s why I’m here right now.”
Duvernay-Tardif’s call to action: ‘something a little bit bigger than football’
Duvernay-Tardif said the pandemic first got on his radar at the Super Bowl, when a reporter asked him about the coronavirus.
“Three months later, half of the planet was in quarantine,” he said.
He realized the seriousness of the pandemic this offseason when he got back from a trip and had to be put into isolation because he was coming from an at-risk area. That, combined with the NBA and MLB seasons being suspended and schools shutting down, is what first caused him to reach out to the Canadian health ministry and the faculty of medicine at McGill.
In the beginning, he was told to serve as an ambassador of sorts, someone who could promote the new public health measures the government was putting in place. At some point, a shortage of people who could work in long-term care facilities emerged, and he got clearance from the Chiefs and volunteered.
“The Chiefs have been amazing,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “Everybody was really supportive and understanding that there’s something a little bit bigger than football that’s happening right now, and if I can contribute to that, then I should.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday that he understands Duvernay-Tardif’s viewpoint.
“You wouldn’t expect anything different from Larry,” Reid said. “When you get to know Larry. He’s all in, he’s all in on being a doctor and being the best doctor he possibly can be. And these doctors are helpers, they’re caretakers. So, he’s going to jump in and take care of people. Just like he does as a player, there are risks involved, but you go, and you go 100 miles per hour.
“You take the precautionary measures that you can, but that’s how he’s handling it.”
Duvernay-Tardif said everyone he’s working with — his first day in the hospital was April 24 — is “a little scared.” However, they’re all leaning on their training on proper protective gear usage and the process they’ve put in place to feel safe.
For Duvernay-Tardif, that process includes leaving the hospital after every shift and going to an empty apartment he’s renting, which he uses as a sort of transitional zone. He showers there and washes his clothes with special soap before going home, and he does this to protect his girlfriend from any exposure he might bring home from the facility.
“I don’t want her to get sick,” Duvernay-Tardif said.
Balance between football and medicine
Juggling everything is a difficult balance. He wakes up around 5:30 a.m. and is done around 3 p.m. The Chiefs recently started four-times-a-week virtual workouts, which he’s trying to attend twice a week. Additionally, he’s stayed in contact with the Chiefs’ strength and conditioning staff and has built a nice gym in his garage to stay in shape, though it’s a little easier said than done.
“It’s hard to work out,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “It takes a lot of discipline to go back home after you take that shower and change into fresh clothes … and go hit the squat rack. But it’s important to do it.”
Duvernay-Tardif recently re-negotiated his contract, taking a pay cut to stay in Kansas City. His focus appears there although when asked how much longer he wants to play football beyond 2020, he couldn’t give a timeline.
“There’s some parameters and things that I’ve got to look at from a medical standpoint, just to make sure I can still do my residency training once I’m done with football and I don’t have to restart everything,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “It’s such a unique case that I don’t have the exact answer.
“But what I know is I’m excited to go back to Kansas City, and that’s why I re-negotiated my contract to make sure I stayed there [in 2020].”
The beginning of the 2020 season remains a mystery. Duvernay-Tardif currently serves on the NFLPA’s task force on the pandemic, along with experts who study epidemiology and public health. The group is dedicated to helping players best navigate in these uncertain times. Duvernay-Tardif insists it’s too early to determine when football will begin.
“For sure, there’s plenty of scenarios right now, plenty of different strategies in place,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “And it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out.
“And I think the No. 1 thing is to keep the players safe, but the NFL in general has a responsibility towards their communities and their fans to make sure that we’re not becoming like a bacterial propagation for that virus. So there’s a lot of questions, and it’s gonna be interesting to see how that’s gonna evolve in the next few weeks, months.”
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