Last night at the NFL Draft, Roger Goodell praised Ryan Shazier’s “unyielding determination and unwavering spirit” as the commissioner invited the Steelers linebacker to the stage to announce Pittsburgh’s first-round pick. Broadcasters noted what an “awesome moment” it was to see Shazier walk shakily, with help, to the podium to announce that incoming Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds would join his brother Tremaine as the first brothers ever to go in the same first round. It is wonderful to see Shazier upright and mobile five months after sustaining a serious spinal injury that could have kept him from ever standing again.
And yet, Goodell’s address and the broadcast’s comments are both pushing a football-first narrative about the bond between fan and player and using it to sugarcoat the nastiest on-field moment in years, one that nearly left a beloved star player paralyzed. It’s gross that just five months after Shazier hurt his spine making a routine tackle, the NFL is laundering his terrifying injury to sell the unifying power of football, especially considering how long the NFL and the Steelers refused to address whether he’d be able to walk again. Fans genuinely care about Shazier’s health, and his progress was kept secret for the sake of providing a memorable TV moment.
Really, it should be a warning. Ryan Shazier is the strongest argument against football, and the NFL used him to sell the future of the sport. Sure, the league changed a rule on hitting with the crown of the helmet in the wake of Shazier’s injury, but what’s most terrifying about the injury is how unspectacular the play was. Shazier went to make a tackle, and he left on a stretcher. There will be more injuries like Shazier’s. Someone picked last night will have their career cut short by head or neck or spinal injuries. The sight of a player whose body has been mangled by the simplest of football plays ushering in the next crop of players whose bodies will also suffer is only a heartwarming moment if you ignore the circumstances that led to it.