Ron Rivera’s Call For Universal Healthcare Sends Important Social Justice Message

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera says his battle with cancer has shown him…

Ron Rivera’s Call For Universal Healthcare Sends Important Social Justice Message

Ron Rivera is leading the Washington Football Team through an organizational makeover, right down to the club moniker. In addition, the longtime NFL coach is emerging as the game’s leading spokesperson for an important cause that transcends the gridiron: healthcare for all.

Rivera, who was diagnosed with cancer this past summer, said Monday he plans to continue coaching while finishing his last three weeks of treatment. In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Rivera said he will continue to be cautious, while trying to maintain his routine.

“It’s who I am,” Rivera said on GMA, via ESPN. ”Listening to the doctors talking about how important it is to try and do as much of the routine as possible, but they also tell you, ‘Hey, be careful, listen to your body.’ And also, there’s other people watching me, so I’m just trying to set the example.”

Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in August. He missed two full practices and part of a third. During Washington’s 31-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, Rivera was surrounded by support at FedEx Field, even though fans were not in the stands. There was a section called “Coach’s Corner,” filled with 400 cardboard cutouts of family and friends. The incredible gesture raised $30,000 for the American Cancer Society.

All of that support must be invigorating, and surely, Rivera is thankful. But on GMA, he talked about another reason he’s been able to continue coaching through his cancer diagnosis: excellent healthcare.

As an NFL head coach with a multimillion-dollar salary, Rivera can afford the best healthcare out there. For the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, that isn’t possible.

“There’s so much that goes into this, and so expensive, that if we don’t have quality health care in our country — we’re the richest country in the world, [so] we should,” he told anchor Robin Roberts, per ESPN. “Everybody deserves the opportunity to fight, and fight with everything that they’re given. And this is the opportunity now. So people got to go out and they’ve got to vote, they’ve got to vote their conscience, because it’s important.”

On Sunday, Rivera told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio his experience with cancer has shown him the necessity of universal healthcare. “It speaks to the value and the need of proper medical for our country,” he said. “Going through the things I’m going through and seeing what these things cost, you just hope everybody is protected and covered.”

Nearly 30 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2019, and that was before millions more lost their insurance during the coronavirus pandemic. A study from Families USA shows 5.4 million laid-off workers lost their insurance between February and May.

As Senator Bernie Sanders often mentioned on the presidential campaign trail, the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer universal healthcare to its citizens. Despite the lack of universal coverage, the U.S. spends roughly two-and-half times more on healthcare per person than most developed nations, including European allies such as France and Great Britain.

It is a broken system that only further perpetuates our racial inequities and the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 209,600 Americans and disproportionally ravaged Black and Brown communities. In the U.S., Black residents are dying at twice the rate of white residents from Covid-19. We’ve lost about one in every 1,000 Black Americans from Covid-19 dating back to February. Indigenous Americans, Pacific Islander Americans and Latino Americans are dying at disproportionate rates as well.

Since professional team sports restarted in July, athletes have been using their platforms to speak about police brutality and racial injustice. LeBron James and NBA stars dedicated post-game interviews to calling for justice for Breonna Taylor; NFL and NBA players are wearing pre-approved racial justice slogans on helmets and jerseys; NBA and MLB teams and other athletes, such as tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, went on strike immediately following the Jacob Blake shooting. Rivera has publicly supported his players in their advocacy.

Calling for universal healthcare is a pivotal point in the fight for racial and economic justice. But we’re in grave danger of going the wrong way. As a new Supreme Court term begins Monday, the justices will hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act contesting the individual mandate. The possible confirmation of conservative Amy Coney Barrett could lead to the provision being struck down, putting the fate of the ACA in limbo. If the ACA is stuck down, 21 million people could lose their health insurance.

By all accounts, Rivera is a great football leader. His players in Carolina revered him. When Washington hired Rivera, Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had a message to the Football Team’s players: the “greatest thing in their careers is about to happen.”

So far, the football challenges facing Rivera have been immense. Along with inheriting a rebuilding project, there is even more turmoil than usual in the front office, with myriad former female employees and cheerleaders detailing an alleged organizational culture of rampant sexual harassment. On top of that, the team is undergoing a long-awaited renaming process, following intensive pressure from sponsors and minority owners.

Rivera is battling through a lot within the confines of FedEx Field, and that’s not even including his cancer diagnosis. The fight to secure healthcare for all is daunting. But Rivera has shown he’s up for the fight.