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NFL Plays it to the Letter by Denying Doctor's M.D.

apox apox/flickr

What’s in a couple of letters behind a man’s name?

Well, in sports, those letters Jr. or Sr. can tell a story of sustained excellence.

Four years ago, former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith added the letters Sr. to his jersey to reflect his status as the paterfamilias in a group where his younger son, Steve, may follow the old man and his big brother, Peyton, into the family business.

That would follow the pattern in Baltimore’s most famous baseball family, the Ripkens. Cal Sr., one of the game’s great teachers, turned his son, Cal Jr. – perhaps you’ve heard of him? – into one of the game’s great shortstops.

But what if those letters are M.D.? What would those letters behind a player’s name represent?

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif knows what they mean for him. That M.D. embodies a life of study and a commitment to improving the human condition through medicine.

It’s odd, then, that those letters don’t appear to seem as important to Duvernay-Tardif’s employer, the National Football League, as it won’t let him wear them on his jersey.

At 27 years old, Montreal-native Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is already something of a renaissance man, having grown up as a cross country skier. He is the grandson of a former Quebec cabinet minister.

As a teenager, he spent a year on a sailboat with his family and earlier this year, he covered the Winter Olympics in South Korea for Radio Canada.

Duvernay-Tardif is entering his fifth season as a right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs and is in the middle of a five-year, $41 million contract, which suggests that he is a pretty good football player.

But the 6-foot-5, 320-pound player just completed eight years of medical school at McGill University, one of Canada’s leading universities.

While players have gone on to practice medicine after their playing days were over, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is the first NFL athlete to finish med school while active.

He’s already gone a step further than Myron Rolle, a former All-American safety at Florida State who couldn’t get a sniff in the NFL once it became known that he wanted to pursue neurosurgery.

Since it became clear that he would finish med school, Duvernay-Tardif has been firm in his desire to have M.D. on his jersey along with his name, just as Steve Smith wanted Sr. next to his name.

In case you hadn’t heard, the NFL hasn’t had a great last few years in the public relations front.

The fight with Donald Trump over the propriety of players taking a knee during the national anthem and the inartful way league management and owners have dealt with the skirmish has tarnished the league’s reputation.

And the controversy about how the NFL deals with head trauma continues to rage with no end in sight.

Duvernay-Tardif’s status could give the league a valuable positive symbol at a time it really needs one. For that matter, his very presence on the field could save a life.

This seems like such a natural that the NFL should reverse field and let Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have his MD. After all, we’re only talking about two letters, right?

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.