A year ago, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. This year, he’ll watch the game from his couch. Despite that, he’s a bigger hero now than he ever could have been on the field.
As a starting guard, blocking for the best offense in football, and a key part of Kansas City’s burgeoning dynasty, Laurent is an elite football player. Yet he’s also a doctor. And early last year, wanting to do his part to help combat the pandemic, he began working at a long-term care facility outside Montreal, changing bed linens, supporting patients, and doing whatever he could to help out.
When the NFL announced plans to play the 2020 season, Duvernay-Tardiff was the first player to opt out. He deferred a salary of $2.75 million to continue his work at the Gertrude-Lafrance care facility. After seeing the impact he could have in those first months, he wanted to use his time to help people, especially those who were isolated and apart from their loved ones. In announcing his decision for the 2020 season,
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my life but I must follow my convictions and do what I believe is right for me personally… Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system. I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”
Laurent’s story is powerful because it’s one that we all face. Granted, few of us will ever have the opportunity to turn down a $2.75 million salary, but life offers similar choices to us all. Do we stay true to our values even when it’s not convenient? Do we do what’s right in the long-term, even if it costs us in the short-term?
We’d all like to believe that we’d make a similar decision given the chance. But life’s choices are less about doing the right thing in that one big opportunity than about making the tough decisions in all of the moments leading up to it. If we cut think short-term every day, we’re unlikely to prioritize long-term benefits in a big decision. If we stray from our values every day, it’s doubtful that we’ll hold to them when a major choice is in front of us.
While considering colleges, Laurent wanted to get a good education and be part of a strong football program. He was then accepted into McGill University, one of Canada’s most prestigious schools, but one hardly known for its football program. McGill would offer him a world-class education, yet would likely hinder his eventual draft position. He chose McGill.
Laurent then decided to continue his medical degree at McGill while playing football in the NFL. Most coaches worried this would hinder his play.. He remembers them asking him, how could they could trust his commitment to the team if he’s splitting time between football and school? He pursued it anyway.
It wasn’t until he talked with Andy Reid that he found encouragement. Reid, showing exactly why he’s a Hall-of-Fame coach, told Laurent that if he’s splitting time between medical school and football, then he must really love football. And more than anything, he wanted a team of players who really loved football.
While in the NFL, Laurent worked with the developers of Shockbox, placing a device inside his football helmet to measure impacts. He continued working to help prevent concussions and is an active member of the NFLPA Health and Safety Committee.
Throughout his career, it’s easy to see the pattern. Laurent went into medicine because he loved science, but also because he loved people and wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. These values are evident in his decision to defer this season and all of the decisions leading up to that moment. As he described the lessons gained while working in the Gertrude-Lafrance care facility,
“I realized that those elderly patients, they were not going to go back home, either from COVID or something else. What really mattered? It’s not the treatment, it’s the caring. Making sure that your patients are comfortable, that they preserve their dignity. It’s important to take the time to connect with these people. And I think that, down the road, is going to for sure make me a better physician.”
We need more people like Laurent. He’s a hero, just like all of the other health care workers who put themselves at risk every day. And he’s a shining example of what comes from staying true to your values, even when it’s not convenient in the short-term.
Every day, we’re faced with similar decisions. Do we prioritize our values or do what’s easy in the moment? Do we take the short-term convenience or make a sacrifice for long-term benefit?
Most importantly, when confronted with these choices, do we decide to act in accordance with the person that we want to be? Laurent did. As he reflected on his decision, he’s confident that he made the right choice,
“My cause is health, is medicine. So I felt it made sense to make that decision, in order to look back at 2020 — five, 10 years from now — and be proud of myself.”
Well done Dr. Duvernay-Tardiff. The rest of us can learn from your example.