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A Letter From the Editor: Don’t question Ryan Shazier’s desires

I realize the Pittsburgh Steelers just wrapped up their first preseason game this past Friday night, a 27-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and many who read my weekly column might be thinking I’ll be diving head-first into the minutiae of the game.

But I’m not.

I saved this topic, which made the rounds on social media earlier in the week, for this very article.

In case you missed it, Ryan Shazier went on the 2nd Wind Podcast and spoke about what it was like having his career end short due to his spinal chord injury on December in 2017 in Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. While the full interview was great, when he said he would “100%” still play football if doctors cleared him today, it invoked a strong response.

You saw the same type of comments from fans and followers of Shazier’s remarkable story and journey back from paralysis to living a somewhat normal life again.

“Why would he ever want to risk that type of injury again?”

“He has a family to think about, not just playing a game.”

“At what point does he not just say he’s given up that dream?”

All of these comments and questions are valid, but the one aspect of Shazier’s situation which isn’t talked about enough is how his career ended. He didn’t decide to step away early from the game, like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. He hadn’t reached the pinnacle of the game and want to just fade into the sunset, like Jerome Bettis. He didn’t see his performance lessen to the point where he felt he wasn’t the type of player he once was, like so many athletes at the end of their respective careers.

No, his career abruptly ended, and at a critical moment. Listen to part of the interview with Shazier in the video below where he doesn’t just talk about how his career ended, but how he was set up for a big contract, paying him life altering money, when he was left with nothing more than the Pittsburgh Steelers organization doing everything they can, like tolling his contract and having him on staff to help him throughout his rehabilitation, etc.

Having the game taken away from him is something which is difficult enough to fathom, but when he talks about not knowing what he was going to do after is what is truly chilling.

Has anyone in any realm had the one thing they love, that they excel at, just taken away from them? Sure, there are situations which can mirror Shazier’s, but when you talk about how lucrative his profession is, it brings an added element to the discussion.

Ultimately, this boils down to someone else’s life, and in today’s social media culture many feel the need to tell others how to live their lives. How they should align their aspirations and desires. But should we even think about that? Should we even comment on Shazier’s desires to play the game he loved dearly? Should we do anything other than try our best to sympathize with the young man’s plight, and wish him nothing but the best for him and his family?

Doctors aren’t going to clear Shazier to ever return to play the game of football, so why does anyone care about his own mental process as he continues to wrestle with his life being tragically altered back in prime time in 2017? The same can be said about those who were weary of Damar Hamlin returning to the game of football for the Buffalo Bills just months before he lay lifeless with cardiac arrest on the same field Shazier laid on in 2017. Should any of us truly tell these young men how they should both act and feel?

Ryan Shazier is an amazing individual, and was an amazing individual before his career-ending injury. He has found success in life after football, but I, nor should anyone, ever tell him what his desires should, or shouldn’t, be after such a life-altering event.


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