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Mark Andrews’ decision to play in 2020, plus a look back on his fight with diabetes

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Diabetes won’t slow this Pro Bowl tight end down

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With much uncertainty around the fate of the 2020 NFL season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential exists for players to sit out the season.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, the NFL Players Association has requested several things from the NFL regarding the upcoming season, one of which being “an opt-out clause for at-risk players to receive salary (but not bonuses) if they decide not to play.”

In a recent Instagram post, Buccaneers’ LT Donovan Smith announced his intention to forgo the 2020 season, saying, “Risking my health as well as my family’s health does not seem like a risk worth taking.”

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@nfl @nflpa To whom it may concern: With the start of the 2020 NFL season fast approaching, many thoughts and questions roam my mind as I’m sure it does for many of my fellow “coworkers” across the league. The unfortunate events of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a halt to a lot of things. Football is not one. To continue discussing the many UNKNOWNS do not give me the comfort. Risking my health as well as my family’s health does not seem like a risk worth taking. With my first child due in 3 weeks, I can’t help but think about how will I be able to go to work and take proper precautions around 80+ people everyday to then go home to be with my newborn daughter. How can a sport that requires physical contact on every snap and transferral of all types of bodily fluid EVERY SINGLE PLAY practice safe social distancing? How can I make sure that I don’t bring COVID-19 back to my household? Yes, we can get tested everyday, but if it takes 24 hours to get my results, how can I know each day that I am not spreading this virus or contracting it? The reoccurring issue here is how? There are too many “hows” that have yet to be answered to ease player concerns and ensure the safety of not only myself, but also my family. I just can’t imagine how the game will be the same during these unprecedented times. Now to hear that 35% of my paycheck may be withheld while we are out sacrificing our health and wellness for the joy and entertainment of everyone else who will be safe at home in front of their TVs? Something isn’t right here. That should at LEAST warrant a pay raise due to the risk, not a cut. I am not a lab rat or guinea pig to test theories on. I am a man, a son, brother, soon to be father, and I deserve to be safe at work.

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Losing their starting LT is a big blow to Tampa Bay after signing quarterback Tom Brady in free agency. It remains to be seen how many players will follow in Smith’s footsteps, but one thing is for certain; Ravens TE Mark Andrews will not be one of them, despite his Type 1 diabetes potentially putting him at extra risk to COVID-19.

In a call with Children with Diabetes, a conference that Andrews and his brother attended last year as well, the third-year TE talked about his plans for the upcoming season.

According to Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun, during his call with Children with Diabetes, Andrews said, “We’ve got a big year coming up. I want to be able to do a lot of things, and . . . just being able to help this team win is exciting for me.”

In an article written by Shaffer in June, he quoted Dr. Robert Gabbay of the American Diabetes Association as saying, “We’re still learning. I think there’s a few things we do know — not so much that people with diabetes are more likely to get COVID, but when they get COVID, they’re more likely to have a more significant disease and higher risk of serious complications.”

Baltimore QB and reigning unanimous MVP Lamar Jackson would lose his favorite target if Andrews sat out in 2020. In 2019, Andrews finished with 852 receiving yards and a league-high 10 touchdowns on 64 receptions, earning him an invitation to the Pro Bowl in just his second season in the NFL. Andrews has certainly earned his place among the top tight ends in the NFL and with such stats, while only playing 41.36% of offensive snaps, it’s fair to say that he will only rise up the ranks with increased playing time now that Hayden Hurst is with the Falcons.

“Andrews, though, has long been mindful of his health,” Shaffer said. “It’s his job not only to catch passes and block defenders but also to be vigilant about his blood sugar. Over the course of three-hour games, he’ll prick his finger about 30 times to monitor his glucose levels. Around the facility, Andrews wears a real-time glucose monitor that sends information to his phone and the Ravens’ athletic-training staff.”

Shaffer also quoted Dr. Jay Skyler of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine as saying, “I don’t think there’s any difference for a physically fit person with a well-controlled blood sugar to be concerned about any excess risk of COVID. I don’t think he’s at any greater risk than a tight end who doesn’t have diabetes. There’s no evidence to say that.”

Ben Kercheval of CBSSports.com wrote an article for bleacherreport.com in 2015 detailing a terrifying near-death experience for the then 19-year-old Andrews at Oklahoma.

“Before he would become a spring-game sensation in April, before he would be a bona fide member of the offensive two-deep depth chart, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews needed to be saved,” Kercheval said. “At 6’6” and 247 pounds, Andrews is a 19-year-old in a man’s body — a body that had gone completely limp one afternoon last September. He lay on his bed, his eyes, usually full of expression and light, fixated straight ahead, yet not on anything at all. His body was motionless, an immovable mass. He was lifeless.”

Wesley Horky, the roommate of Andrews and long snapper for the Sooners saved his life by shoving fruit chews in his mouth.

“He doesn’t remember what happened, but Andrews knows one thing: He was fortunate,” Kerchevel said.

Andrews uses his platform now to inspire others who live with diabetes. Take the young Trenton Fulp, for example. In an article written by Becky Taylor for tiftongazzete.com, she details the story of the young boy who realized that there were professional athletes just like him, with Type 1 diabetes.

“He plays flag football, basketball with Upward Bound and is a black belt in taekwondo,” said Taylor. “He is also Type 1 diabetic. His mom, Dr. Nicole Fulp, said Trenton was diagnosed at the age of 5.”

“He likes to see older people who are athletic who don’t let diabetes stop them,” said Fulp.

“That admiration hit an even higher level lately when Trenton found out there was a National Football League Player just like him,” Taylor said. “While watching a Baltimore Ravens game on TV, it was noted that tight end Mark Andrews is Type 1 diabetic. The similarities do not end there. When they are involved in athletics, Andrews and Trenton eat the same type of fruit gummies to keep their blood sugar levels up.”

After reaching out to the Ravens, the Fulp family received a box in the mail. According to Taylor, the box was “complete with Ravens logos, it included a T-shirt, a community outreach booklet, Ravens sunglasses and a personal letter signed by Andrews.”

Taylor said Andrews thanked him reaching out: “It’s always inspiring to hear from fans of our incredible Baltimore Ravens! Andrews talked about life with diabetes and shared tips. The fourth and final one said ‘[D]o NOT let this disease limit you. Do NOT let it define you. You can still achieve your goals and dreams — you just need to be more careful and smarter along the way.’”

As Andrews enters his third season in the NFL, he’ll look to take the next step on the field while also continuing to inspire future generations to follow in his footsteps.