No matter what the remainder of his life holds for him, there is one thing that Ryan Shazier knows, and that is that it will include football, in some capacity. Whether or not that involves suiting up and playing—for the Pittsburgh Steelers or for anybody else—remains to be seen, but he reiterated yesterday to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that that is still his goal, and his plan.
“I definitely want to play again”, he said. “I have a time frame in my head, but I haven’t really told anybody yet. At the end of the day I’m taking it one step at a time. I’m a lot closer to my goal than I was when I got hurt”.
Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury coming on 14 months ago during a game in December of 2017 against the Cincinnati Bengals that left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. He has continued to make incremental progress since then and in recent months has begun to resume jogging in addition to his routine in the weight room that has become a staple of his weekly regimen.
The linebacker has been doing the rounds in Atlanta, bumping into former teammate James Harrison even. He previously said this past week that he was excited about his next milestone in his recovery and about showing it to people once he was able to get there.
Still, he told the Post-Gazette that the emotional toll remains ever-present, and is something that he has to grapple with—but not on his own. Shazier has a very wide support group from family and friends to teammates, coaches, employers, and fans.
“Sometimes it’s hard to come to rehab, and you start crying or I’ll come to rehab and go, man, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress”, he said. “But you talk to everybody else, they let you know you’re doing a lot better than we ever expected. Every day is getting a little better, it just might not be going at the speed you want it to”.
Shazier has seemed to waver between curating his message and being very open about his journey. For the broader public, he wants to provide a positive and inspirational image on his road to recovery, but when he speaks about it, he opens up about how difficult it can be in the lowest moments, which I think is also very important for him to share, especially for those who may be going through similar situations who would want to know that they are not the only ones battling the same demons.
For the time being, he will continue to focus on returning to football, but he also knows that, whether it ever happens or not, there are still so many other things he can do to keep himself around the game. He has embraced the opportunity to explore those roles and should be prepared for it whenever he decides to move on from being an athlete.