Shelby Harris uses inhalers daily to treat his asthma, and worries about what getting COVID would do to his lungs. But when he was given the choice to opt out of the 2020-21 NFL season, the Broncos defensive lineman—now on his seventh season in the NFL—knew he wouldn't take that path. "That could be the end of your career," Shelby told me. "It's just going to be young players that come in and perform, and that's how you get your spot taken."
Shelby is now getting tested for COVID almost daily, and wears a tracker while at NFL facilities to monitor whether he's exposed to anyone who tests positive. But his season looks different in other ways than he thought it would too—including the amount of money he's making, and the way he's protesting racism and police violence during games. Shelby is currently wearing Elijah McClain's name on his helmet, and as the National Anthem played during the Broncos home opener this year, Shelby took a knee for the first time since 2017. "I'm doing this because I need to be able to look my kids in the eye when I get older and told them I fought for them," Shelby said. "I want to figure out something that's actually going to make a change."
This episode is part of our series Game Changer, about how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives and livelihoods of athletes. Look out for the next episode in the series on Wednesday.