NFL’s Only Physician Player Opts Out of 2020 Season Over COVID

Marcia Frellick

July 27, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, MD, the only medical doctor on a current NFL roster, has become the first player to opt out of the 2020 NFL season, citing concerns over risk for COVID-19.

Canadian-born Duvernay-Tardif, right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs, announced on Twitter Friday what he called "one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in my life."


"There is no doubt in my mind the Chiefs' medical staff have put together a strong plan to minimize the health risks associated with COVID-19, but some risks will remain," he posted.

Dr Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

"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."

According to CNN, Duvernay-Tardif, less than 3 months after helping the Chiefs win the Super Bowl in February, began working at a long-term care facility near Montreal in what he described as a "nursing role."

Duvernay-Tardif wrote recently in an article for Sports Illustrated that he has not completed his residency and is not yet licensed to practice.

"My first day back in the hospital was April 24," Duvernay-Tardif wrote. "I felt nervous the night before, but a good nervous, like before a game."

Duvernay-Tardif has also served on the NFL Players' Association COVID-19 task force, according to Yahoo News .

A spokesperson for Duvernay-Tardif told Medscape Medical News he was unavailable to comment about the announcement.

Starting His Dual Career

Duvernay-Tardif, 29, was drafted in the sixth round by the Chiefs in 2014.

According to Forbes , he spent 8 years (2010-2018) pursuing his medical degree while still playing college football for McGill University in Montreal. Duvernay-Tardif played offensive tackle for the Redmen and in his senior year (2013) won the Metras Trophy as most outstanding lineman in Canadian college football.

He explained in a previous Medscape interview how he managed his dual career; as a doctor he said he would like to focus on emergency medicine:

"I would say that at around 16-17 years of age, I was pretty convinced that medicine was for me," he told Medscape.

"I was lucky that I didn't have to do an undergrad program," he continued. "In Canada, they have a fast-track program where instead of doing a full undergrad before getting into medical school, you can do a 1-year program where you can do all your physiology and biology classes all together.

"I had the chance to get into that program, and that's how I was able to manage football and medicine at the same time. There's no way I could have finished my med school doing part-time med school like I did for the past 4 years."

ESPN explained the opt-out option: "According to an agreement approved by both the league and the union on Friday, players considered high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and an accrued NFL season if they choose to opt out of the 2020 season. Players without risk can earn $150,000 for opting out. Duvernay-Tardif was scheduled to make $2.75 million this season."

The danger of COVID-19 in professional sports has already been seen in Major League Baseball.

According to USA Today, the Miami Marlins have at least 14 players and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, and major league baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred must decide whether to further delay the shortened season, cancel it, or allow it to continue.

MLB has postponed the Marlins' home opener tonight against the Baltimore Orioles as well as tonight's New York Yankees game in Philadelphia against the Phillies.

COVID-19 also shut down professional, college, high school, and recreational sports throughout much of the country beginning in March.

Medicine, Football Intersect

In the previous Medscape interview, Duvernay-Tardif talked about how medicine influenced his football career.

"For me, medicine was really helpful in the sense that I was better able to build a routine and question what works for me and what doesn't. It gave me the ability to structure my work in order to optimize my time and to make sure that it's pertinent.

"Another thing is the psychology and the sports psychology. I think there's a little bit of a stigma around mental health issues in professional sports and everywhere, actually. I think because of medicine, I was more willing to question myself and more willing to use different tools in order to be a better football player."

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