Duvernay-Tardif, the athlete who changed the NFL for medicine after fighting covid
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, number 72 of the Jets, defends Zach Wilson in a game against New Orleans played last December.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, number 72 of the Jets, defends Zach Wilson in a game against New Orleans played last December.Adam Hunger (AP)

For professional athletes it is difficult to say no to the NFL, the American football league, one of the most popular and highest paid in the United States. Player Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, 31, has done it more than once. The most recent refusal came a few days ago, when the New York Jets offensive lineman told the press that, at the moment, there are no plans for him to return in the fall for a new season. The reason? The Canadian has opted for his medical career, an unusual outlet for athletes in this category. Duvernay-Tardif will be tested from July in a Montreal hospital with the idea of ​​becoming a doctor.

“I’m going to prioritize medicine … we’ll see what happens in September,” Duvernay-Tardif told the Associated Press last Wednesday. “After eight years in the NFL, and I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think I’ve earned the right to do what’s best for me and not just for football, it’s time to bet on myself a little bit,” he added. . In 2018, the athlete became the first active NFL player to have a medical degree. In March he became a free agent, which allows you to negotiate his contract with any team. He hasn’t revealed who he might get back on the court with, though he claims he has offers from four franchises.

Duvernay-Tardif is not just any player. In February 2020 he reached the top of the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs after winning Super Bowl 54. His job was to protect Patrick Mahomes during the offense, which beat San Francisco that night coming from behind in an exciting disputed final in Miami. He is one of 13 Canadians to have lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In that game in Miami for the title, Duvarnay-Tardif first heard about the coronavirus, which had already been causing chaos in several Asian cities for a couple of months. The pandemic overshadowed his most important triumph in his career as a professional athlete. “I was frustrated. My events, my foundation events, my press interviews were being cancelled. But I thought this whole thing was so much bigger than me not being able to celebrate winning the Super Bowl,” he said in April 2020.

With the new season in doubt, Duvernay-Tardif decided she wanted to be part of the solution. His supervisor asked him not to leave his building in Montreal because he could get infected and jeopardize his contract, but the athlete decided to take a risk and put into practice what he had learned at the University’s medical school. from McGill. He began working at a public hospital in the city, where he covered shifts as a stretcher bearer and nurses’ aide, something simple for the 1.95-meter, 145-kilogram man. “There was a battle in the world… I would have felt like a coward if I hadn’t done anything,” said the player.

It was nine weeks that changed his life. Most of the patients she treated were in their 80s. “These were people who hadn’t seen their family in 10 weeks because they were quarantined in their rooms. The only interaction they had is with people like us, with masks, gloves and visors. The most important thing was to communicate with them, to preserve their dignity and to be the most optimistic for them, something very difficult, ”she later explained to the press.

The player surprised everyone in the summer of 2020, when he announced that he would not return to the league to defend the championship. “I have seen with my own eyes the shortage of toilets, I have seen people get sick and die. I don’t see how to continue with my affairs and football now. It’s fucked up because I love football, but it’s the price for following my convictions and what I think is the right thing to do,” Duvernay-Tardif said at the time.

His decision was made. And this was applauded by her teammates. “This reflects a tremendous dedication to his profession,” said Andy Reid, legendary NFL coach, who led the Chiefs to the crown against San Francisco in a historic fourth quarter where they scored 21 points. Patrick Mahomes, author of that feat, also dedicated words to the heroism of his partner: “It will be difficult for him not to be here with us, but at the same time he wants to make the world a better place.” His work as a health worker earned him the Lou Marsh awards, which recognize the most outstanding Canadian athletes each year, and the Muhammad Ali, which honors athletes for their social service.

Duvernay-Tardif did not wear the Chiefs jersey again. He tried to stay in shape by lifting weights in his Montreal apartment and studying his team’s playbook. All this when he was not in the hospital, a day that began early in the morning and lasted until three in the afternoon. He returned to Kansas at the end of 2021, but a broken hand in training kept him out of the first team and he was transferred to New York, where he played seven of the eight games in which he was available.

His future as a professional is uncertain at the moment. Although he has made it clear that he is not retiring from the courts yet. “I am comfortable with risk. And I trust that in September there will be an offer on the table. If I want, I will accept it. If Medicine goes well and I feel called to be out there in front of 80,000 spectators to play the sport I love, then I will go. But I want it to be on my terms”, said Duvernay-Tardif.

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