Kevin Gorman: Giving Steelers' Ryan Shazier something to Shalieve in
Six months ago, Ryan Shazier was laying motionless on a football field, with no feeling in his lower extremities, after attempting to make a tackle.
Everyone inside Paul Brown Stadium and watching the Steelers-Bengals game on “Monday Night Football” had to be wondering the same thing: Had we just witnessed a play that would leave a 25-year-old man confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life?
We watch football with the same willing suspension of disbelief that we do action movies, that the violence involved is imaginary and the damage done only temporary.
But we couldn't lie to ourselves on that Dec. 4 night in Cincinnati, not after we saw the Steelers linebacker taken off the field on a stretcher without so much as a thumbs-up.
Neither could Shazier.
“I'm not going to lie: The moment I got hurt, it might have been a little scary,” Shazier said, “but I just trusted the Lord. I asked him to continue to watch over my life. I know the Lord always has a bigger purpose. I asked him to make sure everything was going to be OK.
“But I'm not going to lie. It was a little scary because I got hurt. But I understand that football is a dangerous game. I understand that things can happen. I just accepted it at the moment. I know that sometimes you have obstacles that you have to overcome and I accepted what happened to me and I just kept pushing forward.”
The only thing I wanted was for Shazier to walk again. Over the past six months, we saw signs of Shazier making progress toward that goal — at Penguins games and Ohio State spring games and especially at the NFL Draft.
Six months and two days after his injury, Shazier strode into the media room at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side with the assistance of only a cane, taking eight steps in as many seconds from door to podium to formally address the Pittsburgh media for the first time since undergoing spinal-cord surgery.
After Shazier said his thank yous, this was the first question he was asked: Do you expect to return to play again?
There was a time when that would have seemed like the most inappropriate question, given the nature of the injury, one that could have only provoked an absurd answer.
Shazier didn't even blink.
“My dream is to come back and play football again,” he said. “I've been working my tail off every single day. I have that in the back of my mind every single time I go to rehab. I just try to stay positive every single day.”
Shazier's recovery is not just a medical marvel but proof of the power of positivity and faith, something the Shaziers have coined as their “Shalieve” motto. Playing football again should have been the last thing on his mind. Instead, it was the first, serving as the source of inspiration in his rehabilitation.
“With me, the problem with me is I always think the best-case scenario instead of the worst-case scenario,” Shazier said. “From the moment I got hurt, I was like, ‘Lord, continue to watch over me. You know what your plan is.'
“I hope I can play the game of football again. When I got hurt, that's the only thing I was talking to the doctors about: I wasn't saying, ‘Man, I might not be able to walk again.' I was like, ‘Hey, will I be able to play next season?' ”
Shazier already has been ruled out for the 2018 season, but if playing football again is what motivates his recovery then don't deny his dream.
Not after Shazier shared that he and his family were in tears after his first few steps, that he still cries when watching videos of that moment — “but it's tears of joy” — and that “it really makes me appreciate every moment, every single step I take.”
When Shazier walked to the podium holding the hand of fiancee Michelle Rodriguez to announce the Steelers' first-round selection at the NFL Draft in April, it was nothing short of inspirational.
But the NFL owes it to Shazier to treat his injury as a cautionary tale, especially after Shazier spoke about his love for football since he was 4 years old and how he never has to look back on his career with regrets because he gave the game everything he had.
“Just because I got hurt doesn't mean I'm going to stop loving the game of football,” Shazier said. “I got hurt and I'm still going to give everything I have to come back.”
The NFL passed Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 — “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent” — by unanimous vote in March, penalizing precisely the type of tackle of Bengals receiver Josh Malone on which Shazier was injured.
It will be remembered as the Ryan Shazier Rule.
Punishing the play is punitive, not preventive. Fear of a 15-yard penalty or possible ejection wouldn't have stopped Shazier, but the possibility of paralysis might have made him think twice for leading with his helmet.
For the sake of other boys who love to play football, Shazier should serve not as an NFL poster boy for feel-good moments or reactionary rules but a spokesman for the way (and why) he professes to play the game again: Safer.
Something Shazier can Shalieve in.