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Winning the Fight of Their Lives
Shazier announces retirement
Ryan Shazier attained levels in his recovery from a spinal injury sustained against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 4, 2017 that many believed impossible. His determination, heart, and mind-over-matter approach had him go from a wheelchair to crutches to walking. His dream, his motivation was to return to play the game he loves so much, to feel that adrenaline rush one again.
I definitely want to play,” Shazier said in early 2019. “I try to tell people at the end of the day, just because I got hurt doesn't mean I lost the love of the game of football.” As much as that desire still burns inside
of him, Shazier made one of the toughest decisions of his young life. Just 28 years old, he officially retired from the NFL.
Shazier posted an emotional video on his social media accounts on the day he made his retirement official, even though he was already on the Steelers’ reserve/retired list. “I am here today to make sure the world knows how much I still love football. How grateful I am for everything football gave me. I am here today to let the world know that today I am officially retiring from the game I love so much,” Shazier shared.
“It's been over 1,000 days since I first got hurt. To lose the game in a way I never envisioned has not been easy. When you play the game of football the way I did, you convince yourself you are Super-man. That nothing can stop you. Then the moment I got hurt, I stopped being Superman, and that was difficult to
make sense. “The way I look at it, God put us all here for a purpose. For 20 years, He let me play football, and now it's time for me to do what He wants me to do. I am going to step away from the game for a while and see what else life has to offer. I know football always will be here for me if I need it, but right now I am excited to explore some new challenges and different paths.”
In the eyes of many, Shazier forever will be Superman, an inspiration since he injured his spine and then had spinal stabilization surgery two days later. He has been an inspiration for the positive approach he took to his recovery while never feeling sorry for himself.
He was honored multiple times for his cour-age, including the 2019 George Halas Award, which is named after the Hall of Famer and Chicago Bears icon and is presented to an NFL player, coach, or staff member who has over-come the most adversity to succeed. Shazier also won the Ed Block Courage Award.
Shazier was the Steelers No. 1 selection in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, the 15th player taken overall. At the time of his injury he was tied for the most interceptions among AFC lineback-ers (3), tied for second among all AFC defensive players in solo tackles (68) and was leading all NFL linebackers with 11 passes defensed. His game was headed to a new level, then it was all taken away. Despite the season-ending injury, he was voted to his first Pro Bowl.
Getting to the point of letting the dream go didn’t happen overnight. There were conversa-tions with family and friends, in particular his wife Michelle, who has been a rock through it all.
“It hasn’t been an easy time,” admitted Shaz-ier. “I have done everything I can the best that
I can to hold it in and be my best self. I feel like right now is the best time to move forward and focus on the next steps in my life. I am truly excited about the future. I am excited about retirement. It’s a little bit bittersweet. I never expected it to end so soon. I am excited about what’s next.
“The last few years I have been working my tail off to come back and play. I just felt it was time for me to start transitioning, focus on my family more and the next steps in my life. It was tough for me. Football players try to hold on as long as possible.”
One thing that has helped Shazier has been the support of his teammates, coaches, and the organization, which was evident during the Zoom call where he talked about his decision to retire and was joined by General Manager Kevin Colbert, Coach Mike Tomlin and linebacker Vince Williams, the other half of the “Shake and Bake” linebacker combination.
“When I think about you and your growth and development, I think about you two,” said Tomlin, referring to Shazier and Williams. “I think about the mornings where you guys really sharpened
your swords and developed your love for the game, and more importantly your commitment to the game. More than anything I want you to know how fun it was for me to watch that natural development. I appreciate you for allowing me to be a part of that.
“I have nothing but love for you. This is just the beginning. We want you to know we love you, brother. We are looking forward to watching you take the next step in life.”
Williams built a bond with Shazier that goes beyond football, something that was evident as he spoke. “I just want to tell you I love you man. Thank you for all the memories. I really feel like you were always a much better person than you were a football player. When you are a person like that, it’s always going to translate into things off the field. I want to let you know I love you.” With that, Tomlin and Williams left the call, but the emotion didn’t.
“Man, they almost made me cry,” Shazier said. While that moment came close to bringing him to tears, when Colbert spoke to Shazier the dam broke. “I want you to know, you can retire from the game of football, but you are never going to retire from being a Pittsburgh Steeler,” said Colbert.
Shazier’s response revealed the depth of his feelings about what had been said. “It’s very touching. Sometimes it’s really hard for me. Everybody I played with all know how much I put into the game. They know how much I love the game. Just to know they supported me, are there for me, and still love me in the situation I am in really means a lot. Everybody doesn’t get it to end the way they want, but I am excited. It’s emotional when you hear and see it.”
Shazier still loves the game and has no ill will towards it because of his injury. “My family made it a lot easier on me. It’s been tough for all of us, from the day I got hurt. We always have a positive mind-set. It doesn’t matter what situation I’m in, I’m always trying to find the positive way out of it. I get that from my mom. That is just the mind-set I have. The better you feel about a situation, the better your chances are of being where you want to be.
“I didn’t come back and play football again, but I am still transitioning, getting healthy. I am happy with where I am right now. At first it was tough, but I am at peace with where I am.”
Shazier said he wouldn’t stop his sons, Ryan Jr. and Lyon, from playing football if they would like to one day because he doesn’t blame football for his injury.
“If my boys love it enough and want to play, I am going to let them play,” said Shazier. “I don’t feel like football is why I got hurt. I should have been safer. At the end of the day it was a routine
tackle. I don’t have anger for the game of football.”
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