When COVID-19 hit North America last spring, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif—a starting offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs team that won last year’s Super Bowl and 2018 graduate of McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine—answered his country’s call to help combat the pandemic: he began working at a long-term care facility near Montreal. He pretty much never left. Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020 NFL season; instead, he’s spent the last few months fighting COVID-19 on the front lines and studying public health at Harvard. As the Chiefs were prepping to take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, Duvernay-Tardif reported for duty at the long-term care facility, suffering the COVID-19 outbreak. He joined TIME to talk about his decision to opt-out, his future in football, and to share a Super Bowl prediction.
You’re a medical-school graduate who opted out of the NFL season to fight COVID-19 on the front lines, doing everything from changing patients to administering IVs at a long-term-care facility near Montreal. What was today’s shift like?
We’re going through a third outbreak. It’s hard because people who work here have been working full-time, no vacations, over time, to care for their patients. And don’t get any breaks. I feel like we’re getting to that point where it’s like, O.K., can we see the light at the end of the tunnel? There are the vaccine and a lot of hope. But at the same time, we know it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.
What has been the most challenging moment working in the facility?
Right now, we’re working in a yellow zone; when somebody tests positive, you have to rush into their room and take them away within minutes. The environment that they have been confined in for the past six months. And you send them to a red zone. The odds, you know what’s happening when you do that. It’s pretty traumatic, for sure for the patient, but also for the team that’s working on the floors.
Do you wish at all that you were going to Tampa for the Super Bowl?
Of course, I want to be down there. But at the same time, when I decided to opt-out, one of the questions I asked myself was, If the Chiefs go to the Super Bowl and win it, am I going to be at peace with my decision? And I still feel like the answer is yes.
Why do you have no regrets?
No regrets are different than being at peace. We saw it with the right-to-vote movement, and racial -equality, so many athletes took the microphone and promoted a cause they believe in. My motivation is health, which is medicine. So I felt it made sense to make that decision to look back at 2020—five, ten years from now—and be proud of myself. I’ve said no to money and the NFL season to care for patients.
Should the NFL have played this season?
Yes. People are so divided in the States. People are working from home 40 hours a week and taking care of their kids simultaneously. It’s tough. We do need that feeling of getting excited, that little bit of adrenaline. And that feeling of bringing people together.