Few injuries in recent years have come in a game that were scarier and more impactful than the spinal injury suffered by former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who announced his retirement from the came earlier today, over 1000 days since he was left temporarily paralyzed, and from which he continues to rehab.
Throughout all the time since then, the former first-round pick set himself up with the goal to return to the field. He didn’t want to just play football again. He still wanted to be a starter. He wanted to make the biggest plays of the game. He wanted to be a Hall of Famer when all was said and done.
How could he, then, hate the game, even though it cost him so much, both physically and emotionally? He has regained an extraordinary amount of mobility in the intervening years, and he continues to improve, telling reporters earlier today that he was able to chase his son around. But would he let his boys play?
“If my boys love it enough and want to play”, he said. “I don’t feel football is the reason I got hurt. I feel like it’s more of myself why I got hurt. I probably should have been being a little safer. But at the end of the day, it was a routine tackle. Everyone’s seen me make tackles thousands of times”.
“I don’t really have anger for the game of football, because at the end of the day, if I was to be healthy, I would probably be still making the same decision that I’m making now”, he added. “I really don’t know. I don’t really have much anger about it. I still play catch with my son, I still, if I get an opportunity, I’ll joke around and play football. I fell in love with this game at 5. Some people fall in love with people—you get mad at them, but you always make up, and that’s how I feel about football”
What about if they wanted to follow in his footsteps? “I want them to be able to come to us and say ‘I want to play football, I want to play basketball, I want to play baseball’.”, he said. “Whatever field they come to us and say they’re excited about, that’s what I want them to do, and to lean them towards. I never really pushed it on them”.
Shazier has other things on the horizon. In the immediate future, he is going to be doing a weekly football podcast for The Ringer. Could he return to the game one day, working as an assistant coach, or something similar?
I don’t think even he knows the answer to that yet. But the skills that he did learn from the game, including his meetings with the coaching staff, the scouts, and the front office, will serve him well in whatever endeavors he pursues, inside or outside of the sport.