Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images

ESPN published an interview this afternoon with Vernon Shazier, father of the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier, who was carted off the field with a spinal injury in a game earlier this month. Like other recent updates and news about Shazier’s condition, the interview is frustratingly vague, with Vernon saying before the interview that “he couldn’t get into specifics about the injury.” From the article:

“We have seen some improvement that is encouraging,” Vernon said. “We’re taking it one day at a time. We do not know what tomorrow holds. It’s a [daily] journey we don’t know. But I know God is getting the message.”

Never before has the severity of an NFL injury been such a secret. We know that Shazier had spinal stabilization surgery, and he’s started rehab. But the most up front anyone has been about his condition was when Shazier was on the scoreboard in Pittsburgh during last Sunday’s game, apparently seated, waving a Terrible Towel and receiving a huge ovation from the crowd. There remains a conspicuous lack of details about his prognosis and his current abilities.


Silence is not good news. If Shazier was doing well, or on a path to full recovery, the Steelers and the NFL would make sure everyone knew, and we’d see more of him than just his silent appearance up in a Pittsburgh suite. This mystery makes no sense if Shazier’s injury was a standard “placed on injured reserve” affair.

Normally, this isn’t something that the general public is entitled to know. Shazier’s recovery should be a private journey between him and his loved ones, and, even as an NFL player, his medical information isn’t for everyone to analyze. But the Steelers pushing this “inspirational” moment of a seated Shazier getting cheered at his home stadium—while remaining tight-lipped about any potentially depressing details—raises a lot of questions that the NFL, itself, isn’t answering. And it shines a bright light on just how hard it is for the NFL to talk about the damage its game can do to players without a narrative of recovery or triumph over adversity.