It’s been nearly four years since a seemingly benign NFL tackle altered the course of Ryan Shazier’s life.
It has been 13 months since the two-time Pro Bowl linebacker formally ended his NFL career years ahead of schedule.
A rising star with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he suffered a 2017 spinal contusion that raised doubts if he would ever walk again, Shazier should be preparing this week for an AFC North showdown with the Cleveland Browns. Instead, he’s preparing for the November release of “Walking Miracle,” a book that details his journey from partial paralysis to walking again to blazing a new, unexpected path at 29 years old.
That path includes a weekly hosting spot on “The Ringer NFL Show” podcast. He’s also honing his chops in the broadcast booth, where he made his debut as a color analyst last month calling VMI-Kent State football for ESPN3.
Shazier spoke with Yahoo Sports about that new direction, which he’s not only at peace with, but eager to take on. He also delivered some pointed thoughts on what he believes is disparate focus on player safety in the NFL, whether he wants his sons (Ryan II, 7 and Lyon, 2) to play football and why he believes recent Tom Brady comments made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback look “ignorant.”
Yahoo Sports: What’s next for Ryan Shazier?
“As I continued through rehab, I thought about ‘what do I want to do after football?’ Now I’m calling some games as well. Right now, it’s some smaller games so I can continue to get better and to see what they think — and also just to build a deck. And as I continue to get better, I’ll have the opportunity to possibly do some NFL games.
“My ultimate goal is calling games on the professional level. My ultimate vision — I would love to be a pregame analyst such as Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson, those type of guys. Talking about the game of football has always been on my mind. I feel like I’m very opinionated.”
Would you like to share any of those opinions?
“The biggest thing that got me this year was when Tom Brady said that defensive players are like dogs chasing cars.
“That one got me. I respect him. I think he’s the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
“For him to be that good, I think it’s kind of disrespectful to a lot of the players he’s played before in his past. Obviously everybody’s not Tom Brady. I just feel that — for somebody to say that, that’s basically like saying guys on the defensive side of the ball aren’t intelligent enough to play offense. I would beg to differ.
“I feel like a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball that chose to be on defense because, obviously, they like hitting people. But also that they might be really good at diagnosing or understanding plays as well. For him to be somebody that knows the game of football so well, I thought that was a little ignorant.”
How does it feel to watch games instead of play on Sundays?
‘It does hurt a little bit. I’m used to it now. It doesn’t bother me as much as it once did. Also, I just feel how much I dedicated my life to the game, how much effort I put into the game — with me doing that, it allowed me to be comfortable with the fact that I gave everything I had. I didn’t sell myself short. With me doing that, it allowed me to be comfortable with watching games and being a fan.”
Do you have any regrets considering your spinal injury?
“I feel everything I went through and everything I’m doing now have built me up for the moments that I’m in right now. I don’t really like to say I regret anything because I feel that the path that my life is on right now is going pretty well and I wouldn’t want to take anything back I did in the past because then I wouldn’t have the experiences that I have now. I don’t really have any regrets.
“One thing, I’ve always tried to live my life to the fullest and give everything I have in the moments when I have them. So when I look back at it, I didn’t lose the opportunity.”
How did it feel to watch the Darrell Taylor injury?
Editors’ note: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Darrell Taylor suffered a Week 6 injury against the Steelers that required his head and neck to be stabilized on the field before he was transported to a hospital. He has since been diagnosed with a shoulder injury and is expected to play again this season.
“I was actually at that game. It definitely brings back flashbacks. When I see something like that happen to somebody, the first thing I do is pray and ask God to protect them and their families. I don’t wish that on anybody. I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Is there anything football and the NFL can do to improve player safety?
“We’re playing a very physical game. We all understand that playing this game of football — there’s situations where things like this can happen. People are running a thousand miles an hour. …
“To me, I feel like the game is actually doing well. I think it might be hurting the game more trying to stop guys from playing fast more than actually helping it. The more a guy slows down in trying to anticipate the way to tackle somebody, the more likely that guy can get hurt. Now you’re thinking about how to make a tackle when we’ve been making tackles for our whole life. …
“The league has to understand also that tackling is not a switch that you can turn on and off. … They’re always saying always try to hit with your shoulder, always try to lean your neck away. When you’re leaning your neck away from somebody, and they’re running full speed at you, now your neck is exposed.”
How would you change how penalties are called?
“A lot of the guys that make the rules about how to tackle people have never been in a situation where they have to tackle somebody running at them at 20 miles an hour.”
So you’d like more player input on the rules committee?
“I definitely think having something like that would be helpful. … Imagine trying to tackle Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson. When you’re trying to tackle them and you actually hit this guy in the head, everybody’s mad at you cause it’s targeting.
“This man was literally just running at me full speed, did jackrabbit-like moves on me with quickness, then he drops his center of gravity from 6-foot, 6-foot-2 to being 5 feet — me hitting this guy in the head — there’s no way in hell I tried to hit this guy in the head. …
“It’s almost like you get in trouble for playing defense. … If we’re talking about player safety, the NFL has to do a better job of counting everybody’s safety the same. They don’t do that. Football in general — when it comes to safety — I feel the NFL, they focus on quarterback and offensive safety way more than they focus on defensive safety.”
Would you encourage your sons to play football?
“To me, if my son wants to be Elon Musk, he can be Elon Musk. If he wants to be Tom Brady, I’m gonna let him play football. If he wants to be a scientist — to me, it’s more about their wants than what I want. If that’s something they intend to do or they look forward to doing, I’m 100% for it. I’m gonna support whatever decision they want to do. If they wanna play sports, I’m all for it. If they don’t, let’s figure out what you want to do.
“Everybody understands what you get into when you play the game of football. When you play the game of basketball — you know that your kid’s gonna play basketball — it’s a possibility they get hurt. It’s a possibility they don’t. It’s the same thing when it comes to football.
“As you get older, you understand that some people have season-ending injuries. Some people have career-ending injuries. You understand that some guys have died in the game of football before. You understand what comes with the game. Like 90% of the people in the world, you never think it’s gonna be you. The chances of it being you are less than 1 or 2%.
“I’m just gonna let my kids know. And if that’s something they want to get involved, and they love — if my kids love something, I don’t have a problem allowing them to play it.”
How are you feeling?
“I’m feeling great. I can get around like I once did. I’m not running any 4.3s any more. But I can still get around pretty soundly. I’m blessed. I can enjoy time with my family — I can pretty much do everything I want.
“There’s a few things that I can’t do. But that’s the territory of being paralyzed, coming back from a spinal cord injury. Pretty much everything I envision myself being able to to, I’m able to do it. I’m thankful for that.
“I’m truly thankful for all those fans and the support of everybody that was praying for me. I wouldn’t be here without those prayers, without that support. That truly means a lot.”