Updated: Feb 13, 2021
BY JENNIFER ROBACK | MANAGING EDITOR
Just over one year ago today, the first COVID-19 death occurred in the United States, prompting the start of what would be a worldwide pandemic. Not only has the pandemic affected the lives of millions of people and families, but the sports world has been shaken up in the same way. For the 29-year-old Kansas City Chieifs’ right guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, that meant missing a once in a lifetime opportunity. While battling the pandemic on the frontlines in Montreal, his team was playing in the Super Bowl.
Duvernay-Tardif graduated from McGill University with a Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery degree back in 2018 after playing football there from 2010-2013. In 2014, he was drafted to the Cheifs in the sixth round as the 200th overall player. As of the start of the 2014 NFL season, Duvernay-Tardif was the only active M.D. in the NFL. In July of 2020, just five months after that pandemic started, Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020-21 NFL season to fight on the frontlines against the disease back in Canada.
“It was by far the hardest decision I've ever had to make,” Duvernay-Tardif said in an interview with PEOPLE magazine. “You're coming off a Super Bowl, the team's looking really good, you're in a good shape, you want to go back, you want to win. That's that simple. But at the same time, I felt like I was saying — after witnessing everything on the frontline — I was like, 'Maybe this year, my job is here, my role is here in Montreal.”
The Chiefs’ won the Super Bowl in February 2020 with the help of Duvernay-Tardif, defeating the San Francisco 49ers 31-20.
“I think now more than ever I value human interaction," he explains. "I value people. Even when I practiced at the long-term care facility, I used to only focus on ... medication and optimizing treatment and I feel like at some point you realize that this is important, but taking the time to interact with your patient when you know that they're not going to go back home. ... It makes you reflect on the difference between treating somebody and caring for somebody,” Duvernay-Tardif told PEOPLE magazine.
Duvernay-Tardif is one of 69 players to opt out of the 2020 NFL season because of COVID-19, but the only one to do so to fight on the frontline. Those who chose to opt out were eligible for pay packages ranging from $150,000 to $350,000 in a deal that was made by the NFL Players Association. Duvernay-Tardif would have made $2.75 million this season had he chosen to play.
The NFL season was one of the only sports that 2020 championships was not affected by the pandemic. Shortly after the pandemic started in March, the NBA suspended the remainder of their season until a further date, and the NHL shortly followed their decision. Shortly after the NBA suspension, NCAA cancelled all Winter and Spring championships, including March Madness and the MLB delayed the start of their season along with NASCAR postponing events too.
“I understand the dedication it takes to be a doctor," Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid told ESPN. "It's tremendous dedication to his profession and what his future is going to be. We understand that when football is over, this is going to be one of the greatest doctors ever.”