It was only February when Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a starting offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, found himself at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida, celebrating a victory in Super Bowl LIV. Had you told him then that it would be the last time he’d step on a football field for a game in 2020, he almost certainly would not have believed you.
Alas, that’s exactly what happened in the year COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the world. The pandemic has been felt especially hard in the United States, where over 300,000 people have died.
The coronavirus hasn’t devastated Canada as badly; over 13,000 have succumbed to COVID. Duvernay-Tardif, who grew up in Montreal, has certainly done his part to combat the spread and its effects.
Duvernay-Tardif is the first active NFL player to graduate from medical school. He put that knowledge to use after the season as he returned to Canada in hopes of fighting the pandemic. And while he’s officially a doctor, he wasn’t in a residency program and he didn’t have a license to practice yet, so he began working as an orderly, a hospital assistant responsible for nonmedical care of patients and the maintenance of order and cleanliness.
In June, with training camp looming, the 29-year-old became the first NFL player to opt out for the 2020 season, all so he could keep working to curb the virus in his native country.
Since then, he has gotten no shortage of recognition. In addition to starring in a stirring “Real Sports” feature, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced in November it would display his medical scrubs and lab coat.
This month, he was named one of the five athletes in Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year,” and was the co-winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's Athlete of the Year.
Despite his absence, Duvernay-Tardif recently told reporters that he’s training to return to football next year. If he does so, it would make for a great 2021 NFL story. But the work he did in 2020, a year that was miserable for many, won’t be long forgotten.
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