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Washington football coach Ron Rivera on his battle with cancer

Whatever your favorite NFL team is, Coach Ron Rivera is easy to find. Now in his sophomore year with the Washington football team, Rivera has already led the franchise from scandal to the playoffs, while battling cancer.

Correspondent Mola Lenghi asked, “How’s your health these days?

“It’s pretty good,” Rivera replied. “You know, I’m in the tenth month of my recovery. The doctors are very happy with my recovery so far.”

There is never a good time to have cancer. For Rivera, the time for his lymph node cancer diagnosis in 2020 came as he began his first season with the team.

When asked to describe this year, personally and professionally, Rivera said, “There have been ups. There have been downs. There have been a lot of challenges.”

A normal NFL season comes with many challenges. What Rivera went through was abnormal and exhausting, in the midst of a pandemic, nothing less.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Washington Football Team
Washington football head coach Ron Rivera speaks with players on the sidelines during the first half of the pre-season game against the Baltimore Ravens, at FedExField on August 28, 2021 in Landover, Maryland.

Scott Taetsch / Getty Images


Prior to taking the job, Washington – despite the team’s proud history in football – had become one of the league’s most difficult and undesirable head coaching positions, with growing problems outside of the league. field, in particular cheerleader sexual harassment scandal, and a decades-long name change controversy finally comes to a climax. He still took the job despite it all, convinced by beleaguered team owner Daniel Snyder: “He said, ‘Ron, I have to change my culture. And I believe you’re the guy who can help me.’ to help.'”

The former linebacker with one of the best defenses on one of the best teams in NFL history, the 1985 Chicago Bears, is approaching change with responsibility. “It will not happen overnight,” he said. “One thing I’ve always said to people is, ‘Hey, those shoulders are pretty wide. I’ll take it.’ I mean, if I make a mistake, it’s mine. I’ll take it, and I’m not afraid of it. ‘”

In its first year, the Washington football team surprised the NFL by qualifying for the playoffs… with a loss record.

Lenghi said, “You were seven and nine. Do you see last year as a success?

“Yes, absolutely,” he replied. “We’ve won five of our last seven games to qualify for the playoffs. And that’s something that I really believe we could build on.

“I say to the players, there are three things you control in your life: your attitude, your preparation, your effort. We can try to influence them, but you control them. You make that decision.”

The team responded by rallying around their coach’s battle with cancer, tight end Logan Thomas said: “I think it brought us all together. Like, he was fully into when everything was going wrong, but he wanted to be here, to be around us and to show that he was for this team. ”

Rivera lost 30 pounds. Some games he needed intravenous therapy during halftime. But he hasn’t missed a game all season.

“You think that sent them a message saying, ‘Hey, coach is going through hell right now, but he’s still showing up’? ‘ Lenghi asked.

“Yeah,” Rivera replied. “The truth is, when we sat down to discuss with the doctors what I was going through and how I should handle it, one of my questions was, ‘Well, should I work ?’ They both said, “Oh, absolutely. You must work.”

“We all laughed at it later. I said, ‘I didn’t realize that, you know, missing a few days or a week was an option!'”

“He’s tough,” said Stéphanie Rivera, the coach’s wife, who has taken control and has become his guardian.

The two started dating while they were students at the University of California. “She was stalking me!” Ron laughs.

“It’s history, he sticks to it,” said Stephanie.

Lenghi asked, “Is Coach Rivera different from her husband Ron or Father Ron? Or are they all kind of the same guy?”

“When it gets seasonal, it gets a lot of ‘coaching talk’,” Stephanie said with a laugh. “And also, the swear words come out a little more, you know, during the football season.”

But that “coach talk” was compromised by the proton and chemotherapy targeting Rivera’s neck cancer.

Lenghi asked, “Is it hard to be a leader in a locker room when your real physical voice isn’t where you need it?”

“It is,” Rivera said. “At first it really didn’t affect me until the middle of the treatments. It got a little difficult sometimes. And so, I really couldn’t, you know, bark like I wanted to.”

ron-rivera-1280.jpg
Head Coach Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team.

CBS News


Rivera eventually regained his voice, but something interesting happened: he started to use it differently. Today, he is making himself heard more, especially on subjects that have marked his life. “Our health system is broken,” he said. “We have very good medical coverage, and I was originally refused. So that opened my eyes.”

“It seems like politics has its imprint on everything,” Lenghi said. “It hits a bit of everything these days, including the NFL. So how do you deal with that?”

“The one we are currently facing is the vaccination rate in the NFL,” said Rivera, who is immunodeficient. “My frustration is just because there is so much false information that is allowed to be released. It has been very difficult in terms of having to deal with COVID. It has been very difficult with some of the things that have happened so near us in Washington, DC – everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the insurgency on Capitol Hill.

“For some reason we have become the social and moral conscience of the United States that confuses me, to be honest with you!”

“Has this sport, or that the NFL, has become so aware?” Lenghi asked.

“This sport has become so influential. And so, I take it very seriously. And believe me, ten years ago, I didn’t think that way.”

Rivera is an old school guy, ready to play a new school game. “When you stop learning, you stop growing,” he said. “As you get older, reinvent yourself. So, I try to look for different ways to be better.”

When the NFL went through its controversy on its knees, this coach turned to a different kind of playbook: “I reread the Constitution. I have read the Bill of Rights. I have read the oath of office. Help me to understand so that I can be understood. ‘”

Lenghi said: “I think a lot of people might be surprised to hear a football coach say, ‘I have read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the Oath of Office in order to try to understand a little better. my players and my football team! ‘”

“I think it’s important, especially in today’s world, because so much is expected of players.”

And not least is to win. And a win tomorrow will give his team a record of wins so far this year.

When asked what would make this season a success for him, Rivera replied, “What we want to do is build a culture and make that culture a sustainable winning culture.

“Along the way it would be great to win the division, to win a few playoff games. But for me, it’s always about growing and developing and getting better at what you’re trying to do. ”

For Rivera, who received his last cancer treatment a year ago and no longer has cancer, the battle off the pitch is just as important as the one on the pitch.


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