Von Miller is among the NFL’s best pass rushers, and in addition to eight Pro Bowl appearances, he was the MVP of Super Bowl 50, when his Denver Broncos won the championship. But being a world-class athlete doesn’t make you invincible, and last month Miller announced he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The 31-year-old linebacker is healthy now, and he recently announced plans for his charitable foundation, Von’s Vision, to work with food pantries and nonprofit groups in Colorado and his native Texas to provide meals in those states for children affected by the coronavirus. He spoke with The Washington Post about dealing with the virus, how the NFL should approach the upcoming season and the right way to think about defending Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Q: When did you first realize you were sick?
A: I started to get a cough, but I rarely ever get sick, so I really didn’t think about it being the coronavirus. I thought I just had a cold. I was still coughing when I was making my protein shake, and my assistant told me: “Why don’t you just go get tested? The Broncos, they got free tests; it’s right down the street.” Two days later they tell me I had the coronavirus.
Q: What was the worst part for you?
A: Not being able to breathe. I got asthma, but it was past the asthma attack — like my lungs were constricting. My asthma nebulizer helped, but it still didn’t feel like it was supposed to. That was the most frightening part. Just going to sleep knowing that my oxygen level could drop and I could wake up and have to go to the hospital.
You can’t really taste. You can’t really smell. That in turn kind of messes with your appetite, so you’re not really eating like you’re supposed to. The first four, five days I was honestly nervous. I wouldn’t say that I thought I was going to die or anything like that, but it did cross my mind a little bit.
Q: What did you tell teammates and friends around the league, maybe if they’re skeptical of how serious this disease can be?
A: They don’t even think it’s real. That’s the craziest part. I told them to take it serious. Take all of this serious. Take social distancing serious. I was going to Chipotle earlier and I saw two people walk out in masks. They took off the masks before they had even got out the store; I was like, “Hey!” They was all excited, but I was like: “I had the coronavirus; I saw y’all take your masks off early. Y’all should wear y’all masks all the way to the car.” Their smiles kind of changed.
Q: You play a cardiovascular sport that requires conditioning and burst. What concerns do you have about long-term lung damage?
A: Taking 17 days off and then trying to get back into it, I really feel it. I still feel my lungs trying to get back in shape. It’s just all the wear and tear that it puts on your lungs. I’ve got asthma on top of that, so to try to run with asthma and then try to run after the coronavirus, that’s what I think some of the shortness of breath comes from.
Q: You recently launched “Von Sacks Covid,” which will try to provide 580,000 meals over the next month. You could be resting up, so why take this on now?
A: I just want to do as much as I can to spread awareness. To be honest, whenever this virus started, I was trying to stay out the way. I was trying to stay home, stay out the way and wait this thing out. I ended up getting the virus at home. That’s when it really hit me, like, just staying low and social distancing ain’t enough. I’ve got to do my part.
Q: Your foundation provides eye exams and glasses to kids in part because you have worn glasses since childhood. Why is this new effort personal to you?
A: I had the virus, so I know how serious it is. It’s not just me saying do this and do that, or just trying to raise money for a cause or anything like that. I actually had it. It’s something that is a part of me, just like the glasses thing. Everybody here in my house saw it. Not everybody has the same things that we have here. So I want to do as much as we can.
Q: The NFL is bracing for team facilities to reopen and seems to be charging ahead as if the 2020 season will happen as scheduled. If you were the commissioner, knowing the severity of the virus’ effects, how would you push forward?
A: If I was commissioner, I would take notes from the other leagues that are starting up before us. We got soccer coming up in Europe, and they’re going to do mass testing. That’s what we have to do. Every day we need to test all the players. It’s got to be part of the routine.
If one person gets this and it goes undetected, then that’s eight. Let’s say [Broncos wide receiver] Courtland Sutton gets tackled and he has the virus. Now you got the other team; they have the virus. I want to make sure all the players and all the staff and everybody coaching and everybody in the front office gets tested every day.
Also, if a stadium holds 65,000 people, they might cut it down to about 16,000 people and [spread people] out across the stadium. Everybody is going to have spaces to watch the game. Then you can get some of the real-life feel back, the real-life football back.
Q: Hundreds of people work at NFL team facilities. Would you be nervous to go back to work right now?
A: Yeah, and everybody’s got to stay masked up. I want to be safe. I want to make sure I can still deliver football to the fans, but I want to do it as safe as possible. I’m not cutting any corners when it comes to that.
Q: On a football note, your team is in the AFC West and has the pleasure of facing the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes twice a year. How in the world do you stop that guy?
A: Can’t. We’ve just got to score points. If we’re able to get off the field — you can hold them to a third down here and there, but that’s on our offense. We’ve got to score on offense, because you cannot — it’s not smart to go into the game and say we’re going to hold Patrick Mahomes to no points.