The Pro Football Writers of America have an affinity for giving out awards. Arguably the most prestigious of them is the George Halas Award, given to an NFL player, coach, or staff member who had to overcome a great deal of adversity to succeed.
Among the five finalists for the award this year are two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers: running back James Conner, and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. Conner battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma while he was at Pitt. Shazier continues and ongoing recovery process from a severe spinal injury suffered in December of 2017.
Both of them have provided a great deal of inspiration to people, not just in Pittsburgh, but around the football nation among those who have heard their stories. Conner’s adversity came prior to the start of his NFL career, so perhaps was not as ‘big’ as it could have been, but he has spent quite a bit of his free time giving back to those who need his example as motivation to get over their own obstacles, including many battling cancer themselves.
As for Shazier, his injury was pretty much as high-profile as it gets, coming in prime time in a nationally televised game against a rival, and the media and fans all around have been attached to his story—which he has largely had the blessing to share at his own time—since then.
“Connor was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2015 as a student-athlete at Pitt. After 12 rounds of treatment, he was declared cancer free”, Conner’s entry reads. “The Steelers chose him in the third round of the 2017 draft, and in 2018 he started 12 games in the absence of holdout Le’Veon Bell, rushing 215 times for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns and catching 55 passes for 497 yards. His 1,470 yards from scrimmage were 10th-most in the NFL”.
“A head-first tackle in 2017 left Shazier paralyzed from the waist down”, it says for the latter. “He had spinal surgery, but he refused to give up on playing. He sat out the 2018 season, but remained with the team, helping in scouting and coaching. He has been able to run, lift significant weights and even dance at his wedding”.
The other three finalists are quarterback Andrew Luck, retired safety Andre Hal, and general manager Dave Gettleman. Gettleman himself battled lymphoma, as did Hal, the latter also Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Luck returned from a career-threatening shoulder injury to reach the playoffs and a Pro Bowl in 2018.
The 2019 Off-Field Awards will be voted on up to May 31, and the results will be announced on June 3. With two members of the Steelers as finalists, they stand a good chance of winning, and both Conner and Shazier certainly have more than worthy stories. All five players and personnel have served as inspiration to many in their own way, and that alone is worth celebrating.