top of page

Listen and Hear

Spring 2023.

A school assembly gets set to begin. The usual hum of activity. Bleachers and rows of chairs in the old gymnasium steadily fill. A number of staff take attendance. Students chatter away, some sneak quick peeks at their phones. A screen shot, high above the dais, welcomes a special guest.

The accompanying list of accolades impresses.

Indeed, the keynote speaker is apparently quite good at football. Perhaps not surprising, as he stands an imposing 6’5”, weighs some 310 pounds. Basically the shape of a large refrigerator. Hands the size of dinner plates. Meaty forearms, massive shoulders, a barrel chest and tree trunks for legs. Along with a disarming smile and a neatly trimmed black beard.

Born and raised in Quebec. An All-Canadian lineman at McGill University. Drafted in 2014 by the Kansas City Chiefs, he plays the better part of eight NFL seasons. In 2017, he signs a five-year, $42 million dollar extension. Wins a Super Bowl ring in February 2020.

Along the way, he somehow also manages to complete his medical and surgical studies, before going on to Harvard to gain a Master of Health degree. Then, most significantly, he trades his jersey for hospital scrubs. In a highly celebrated move, he takes leave from the riches of professional sport to join the Covid frontline in Montreal. Goes from performing in front of 80,000 fans each week to becoming a mere orderly in the medical hierarchy. Nonetheless, during the bleakest days of the pandemic, with the death toll spiraling, he provides desperately needed aid and comfort to elderly residents in severely overburdened long term care homes.

For these efforts on and off the field, he is a 2020 co-winner of the prestigious Lou Marsh trophy, presented annually to Canada’s Athlete of the Year. Likewise, is named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated. Claims the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian award. Forms a successful Foundation and becomes a published author.

He is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

Microphone in hand, he makes his remarks. A mixture of philosophy, life lessons and recommendations, they make a real impact. Powerful and on point, they leave me purring.

Initially, he discusses his decision to opt out of the 2020 NFL season. He is the first contracted player to do so. Fresh off a championship, he misses football. Yet, despite some initial misgivings, he does not hesitate to step away from the sport he loves. In so doing, he follows his convictions in regard to the Covid crisis and the critical importance of public health and wellness. He realizes his is a privileged position, that he has a direct responsibility to assist in a time of great turmoil and uncertainty.

His time in the care homes is fraught with danger, yet he perseveres. It helps that the transition from football to medicine ends up being relatively seamless. He considers the two disciplines remarkably similar. Both require sacrifice, dedication, humility, and resilience.

The Covid experiences leave an indelible mark. He gives examples of the passion and resolve shown by countless other nurses and interns. Without question, an innate ability to work as part of a team sees him through an extremely difficult and challenging eighteen months.

Changing tack, he focuses specifically on the students in attendance. Stressing the importance of life balance, he promotes cross training for young athletes. Suggests strongly they avoid early specialization, which he sees as highly detrimental to overall development.

Furthermore, he counsels that a raft of different experiences will help both promote necessary tools for success and foster the ability to better handle hardship. As not everything is going to go swimmingly all the time. He counsels that facing adversity is a fact of life and requires tools to cope.

Moving on, he imparts the value of visualization, in regard to success but, more particularly, failure. He outlines the importance of relentless preparation, but equally the value of routine. That understanding of and preparation for what is likely to happen, or what might happen, removes anxiety or any unpleasant surprises. That the person in question will possess the ability to act and react as required. And, when necessary, recover.

Far too soon, the assembly draws to a close.

I ponder whether Tardif might actually consider a return to football. Even if, in a violent, contact sport, he has already suffered an assortment of injuries. Traded in November 2021 to the New York Jets, he is currently out of contract. Yet, surely this is as it should be, a hugely impressive character now a free agent and ready to fully prioritize a career in medicine. All the while championing the importance of physical activity in youth education.

I think again of Tardif’s vitally important messages and of the critical platforms he wishes to build and support.

Each founded on conviction. On responsibility, balance, and sacrifice. On humility, resilience, and teamwork. Each an integral part of health and wellness. Each part of a solid and ongoing framework for life.

I scan the faces of students sitting across from me. As they shuffle to their feet and ready to depart, I wonder how they will process and analyze the viewpoints on offer.

Do they listen? And, if so, do they hear?


bottom of page