Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury in December 2017 and has been making slow progress in a quest that stretches far beyond the gridiron.
Shazier has made numerous public appearances since his injury; arguably his most powerful came during the 2018 NFL Draft, when he walked onto the stage with some help from his then-fiancee, Michelle. Shazier did not play in 2018 or 2019 and has now officially retired from the NFL.
A timeline of Ryan Shazier’s injury and recovery
Here’s everything that happened since Shazier was injured on Dec. 4, 2017.
Sept. 9, 2020
Ryan Shazier made it official on Wednesday by announcing his retirement from the NFL in this video:
Mar. 17, 2020
Shortly before the start of the 2020 league year, the Steelers announced that Shazier has retired from the NFL and been placed on the Reserve/Retired List. This move will allow for “his continued inclusion within our organization,” according to the team’s general manager, Kevin Colbert.
Aug. 25, 2019
Although Shazier won’t play again this year, he is still part of the Steelers — and even snagged a few balls in warmups before a preseason game:
June 3, 2019
The Professional Football Writers of America announced that Shazier was chosen as the 2019 George Halas Award recipient. The award is given annually to an NFL figure who has overcome adversity.
May 3, 2019
Shazier married his longtime partner, Michelle, in downtown Pittsburgh. Current and former Steelers teammates, along with a couple celebrities, were guests at the wedding to celebrate the couple.
Also worth celebrating is Shazier hitting the dance floor with his new wife:
April 29, 2019
For the second year in a row, the Steelers placed Shazier on the physically unable to perform (PUP list). That was the plan all along, but now it’s official that he won’t play in 2019.
April 7, 2019
Shazier showed off the impressive progress he’s made, posting a video of himself doing box jumps:
“The first boxes were a lot lower than that,” Shazier’s father, Vernon, told ESPN. “It all began with just trying to jump — no box. It slowly graduated to what you see in that video.”
March 12, 2019
Shazier’s contract was set to expire after the 2018 season, but because he was sidelined the entire year the Steelers have the option to toll his contract over another year. The team announced it planned to do exactly that — ensuring Shazier can continue to get paid by the league, accrue years toward a pension, and receive NFL medical insurance.
The Steelers also announced that Shazier will eventually be placed on the PUP list and won’t play for the team in 2019.
“We will continue to support Ryan’s efforts to return to play,” said General Manager Kevin Colbert. “Although he won’t be able to help us on the field in 2019, his leadership, insight, and emotional support have always been very valuable to us, and we look forward to his contributions in our pursuit of a championship.”
Jan. 16, 2019
Following the Steelers’ 2018 season, Art Rooney II gave an update about Shazier’s status with the team. Shazier is set to be a free agent in March.
“Ryan, I believe, still intends to continue to rehab with the intention of trying to come back and play, and so to the extent that he wants to do that, we’re open to working that out,” Rooney said. “There are some technicalities about somebody going from staff to player. So, at this point as I said, I think his goal is to continue to be a player, and so we’ll have to address it as time goes on and figure out how that works. He would have to have a contract.”
One possibility is that the Steelers sign him to a one-year contract at the league minimum.
Dec. 6, 2018
Almost exactly a year after his injury, Shazier posted a video of himself deadlifting:
Days earlier, Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Shazier had just jogged for the first time since the injury. According to the article, doctors had given Shazier “less than a 20 percent chance” of walking again.
Oct. 14, 2018
Shazier returned to Cincinnati, where the Steelers and Bengals were playing for the first time since his injury. Before the game, Shazier paid a visit to University of Cincinnati Medical Center to thank them for taking care of him last December:
It’s been a long journey, but this is still a ways to go. But it all started here in Cincinnati. Today was an amazing day I was so thankful to be able to tell everyone thank you. #Shalieve pic.twitter.com/wItKXNp5ya— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) October 14, 2018
Sept. 24, 2018
The Steelers made their first Monday Night Football appearance since Shazier’s injury in a Week 3 matchup against the Buccaneers. Lisa Salters spoke to Shazier before the game.
“He’s feeling really good,” Salters said, “He said he’s taking things a day at a time. He wants to play football.”
Salters also talked to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who told her, “We just want to be there as a team to support him in whatever decision he decides to make for himself in the future.”
Aug. 3, 2018
At the Steelers’ annual Friday Night Lights practice, Shazier showed fans that he is now walking on his own, unassisted and without a cane:
Today was a great day. The team had a wonderful practice. But I also got to enjoy the fans‼️ If you were able to make it to the stadium, here if a little bit of what happened‼️ I promise you the lord is not done working yet‼️ Keep Shalieving 5️⃣0️⃣ #shalieve pic.twitter.com/LHiRXHa5gN— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) August 4, 2018
June 6, 2018
Shazier spoke at a press conference — his first time speaking to media after his December injury.
“My dream is to come back and play football again,” Shazier said. “I’ve been working my tail off every day and I have that in the back of my mind every day I go to rehab.”
Shazier said he’s been surprising doctors with his progress throughout the rehab process. His goal for now is to be able to walk by himself without the support of a cane.
He also said that he’s not afraid of suffering another injury if he eventually returns to the field, but added that “he’ll have to play safer and keep his head up.”
May 3, 2018
The Steelers have converted $8.26M of LB Ryan Shazier’s 2018 base salary into a signing bonus, per source. Shazier, placed on PUP Wednesday, earns that money now. While there are no cap implications, it’s a great gesture by a first rate organization.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 3, 2018
May 2, 2018
The Steelers placed Shazier on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which means he won’t count against the team’s 90-man limit for the offseason roster.
April 26, 2018
He made a surprise appearance at the NFL Draft, when he walked for the first time in public since his injury. His fiancee, Michelle, walked with Shazier to help him to the podium. There, Shazier announced the Steelers’ first-round pick, safety Terrell Edmunds out of Virginia Tech:
After, he thanked fans for their support:
A dramatic week got even more so the next day, when a tornado hit his parents’ home, but everyone is OK.
April 14, 2018
Shazier was an honorary captain at Ohio State’s spring game. He used a wheelchair to get to the Buckeyes locker room, where he stood up to address the team before the scrimmage. Shazier also stood up to wave to the crowd at Ohio Stadium:
April 11, 2018
Shazier attended a Pittsburgh Penguins playoff game and while standing, he led the fans in a “Let’s go Pens” cheer.
Shazier attended an NCAA tournament game in Pittsburgh.
March 4, 2018
During the NFL Combine, Shazier hopped on the phone with NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen.
“My end goal is to allow the Lord to let me come back and play at the high level that I was before,” Shazier said. “Every day I try to get better. I strive for the Hall of Fame and I was doing that through this year, the whole time I was playing. And I still do that while I’m doing rehab. I know it’s still a possibility. I have the Lord and he has my back and I constantly feel I’m going to come back and play football.”
Feb. 28, 2018
Steelers GM says Ryan Shazier won’t play in 2018. “We know that, he knows that”— Adam Stites (@AdamStites_) February 28, 2018
Feb. 20, 2018
On Feb. 20, Ryan Shazier spoke for the first time about his injury when he was a guest on his teammate Roosevelt Nix’s podcast. Shazier said that he’s making progress every day and that he plans to play football again one day.
Feb. 7, 2018
Team owner Art Rooney II confirmed that Shazier will still be heavily involved with the Steelers next season:
Art Rooney on Ryan Shazier's future: "I expect Ryan is going to be here one way or the other and have a roll on the team one way or other in 2018"— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) February 7, 2018
Feb. 6, 2018
Shazier attended a Penguins game and stood up, with some help, while fans gave him a standing ovation:
Feb. 4, 2018
ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared on Super Bowl Sunday that Shazier hasn’t just regained feeling in his legs, but he’s also regained movement and is “engaging in a regular walking routine.” But Michele Tafoya reported that Shazier wasn’t walking on his own, which Shazier then confirmed himself.
Feb. 1, 2018
Shazier posted the most encouraging sign of his recovery to that date with a picture that appeared to show him standing — albeit with support from teammate Ben Roethlisberger.
I’ve had a lot of 1st downs at UPMC, but you know being the defensive guy I am, my mind is on 3 and out. With that being said, I want everyone to know that I’m moving on to the next step of the process. Today’s a big day for me as I’m officially being released from the hospital. I want to take a moment to thank the people who have helped me the past two months. First and foremost, I want to thank God because at the end of the day I don’t think I’d be making progress without His vision and hands protecting me and my family. I will continue to trust in Him and thank Him, because it all starts with Him. To my family: you’ve been my rock. Words can’t express how thankful I am for you Michelle, RJ, Mom, Dad, and VJ for always being there for me. You’re my everything. To Jerome: my trainer and best friend. Thank you for being there from day 1 and every day after continuing to push me to be better every day. I’d like to thank Dr. Okonkwo, Dr. Harrington, Dr. Maroon, and Dr. Schroeder for their amazing work on my procedure and continuous care. I can’t appropriately express how grateful I am for how quickly you’ve helped me bounce back. I want to thank the medical staff at UPMC for their amazing care, support and therapy they have given me- especially Joe, Nikki, Karolina and Dani. I know the staff will continue to help me find a way to keep on pushing as we continue therapy. The support from my teammates has been truly amazing. From former players to current players and their families- they have helped me and my family day to day with visits and gifts. We can’t thank you enough. I want to thank Mr. Rooney, Coach T, Mr. Colbert, and the entire Steelers organization for the unwavering support they’ve given me. I knew they were an amazing organization, but more than ever they’re family to me. Lastly, I want to thank Jimmy, Candice, and the CAA Sports staff for being here when I need them most. I don’t know if I’d be where I’m at or making the progress I’m making without you guys. I want everyone to know that all of the support and prayers are absolutely being answered. I will continue to work hard and push and find a way back. #Shalieve #Steelers #prayfor50
That same day, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center released a statement saying that Shazier was discharged from inpatient rehab and will transition into an outpatient program to continue his recovery.
Jan. 14, 2018
Shazier was on hand to cheer on the Steelers during their Divisional Round game against the Jaguars.
He spoke to his teammates in the locker room to encourage them, according to CBS’ broadcast.
Jan. 10, 2018
This was the first photo that confirmed Shazier was in a wheelchair. His family and the team have kept details about Shazier’s condition close to the vest to protect his privacy as he recovers.
I want to thank the Lord for the first downs that he has been allowing me to achieve. The touchdown is going to come in his timing, but today was a first down. I was finally able to make it to practice with my teammates. It’s great to be back for practices and meetings. Just to be able to feel a part of it means the world. So I’m working harder than I ever have to get back. Ive been making strides over the past month and continue to make progress. Taking it day-by-day, but I’m far from done. The Lord has not finished his work yet. I want to say thank you to the fans and Steelers Nation for the prayers. If it wasn’t for my family, friends and your prayers I wouldn’t be were I am now. They have lifted me and my family through this journey and I ask for you to continue praying for me, as I continue to work daily on improving my health. #Shalieve#Steelers#prayfor50
He visited his teammates at practice for the first time before the Steelers’ divisional matchup against the Jaguars, bringing an emotional lift as the team prepared for the postseason. Cameron Heyward told NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala that Shazier said he has good days and bad days. But the days he’s able to spend around his teammates are always good days.
Jan. 4, 2018
Shazier’s father, Vernon, said that Ryan regained feeling in his legs.
“He’s much better,” the elder Shazier told Pittsburgh’s WPXI-TV, “but we’ve agreed to keep his progress private until he’s ready to share where he’s at.”
Dec. 17, 2017
Shazier made his first public appearance since the injury at the Steelers’ Week 15 game against the Patriots,. He waved a Terrible Towel to pump up the crowd:
Dec. 12, 2017
The Steelers put Shazier on injured reserve, officially ending his season.
“Unfortunately Ryan will not be able to contribute on the field during the remainder of this season,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. “However, even off the field Ryan will continue to be one of our team leaders. We know his spirit and positive outlook will help him to continue in his recovery, as well as serve as an inspiration to our team.”
Dec. 10, 2017
Shazier celebrated the Steelers’ Week 14 win over the Ravens with his teammates from his hospital bed via FaceTime.
It was their first game after Shazier’s injury.
“We didn’t play without him. He was out here with us, and we know it,” quarterback Ben Roethsliberger said after their 39-38 dramatic win. “Buddy, we love you so much. This one was for you, bud.”
Before the game, Antonio Brown and several other teammates wore customized cleats in honor of Shazier.
Dec. 7, 2017
Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery, according to an announcement from the team:
“I’m not worried about him playing for us again, I’m more worried about him,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said via the Post-Gazette. “Y’all have been updated as much as we have. The thing that we’re hopeful for and prayerful for is that he comes back and he’ll be OK. The football stuff is secondary. His life is a lot more important to me than football.”
Dec. 6, 2017
Shazier was transported back to Pittsburgh to stay at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center:
Dec. 5, 2017
The Steelers updated Shazier’s status throughout the day:
“I really have no update in terms of his medical status other than what was released earlier,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “I would imagine at the appropriate time that those who are responsible for his care will give you a reasonable assessment of where he is. I imagine that would occur as soon as later on today.”
“From my perspective, obviously it was a tough evening,” he said. “Ryan’s a trooper. I had an opportunity to spend some time with him, and he’s in good spirits.”
Dec. 4, 2017
Shazier was injured during a Monday Night Football game against the Bengals in Week 13. On Cincinnati’s first possession of the game, Shazier went to the ground clutching his back after tackling Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone. It looked like a normal, everyday kind of tackle until Shazier didn’t get up.
Shazier was immobilized on a backboard, carted off the field, and taken to a Cincinnati hospital.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not have an update on Shazier’s status after the game.
“This is a tough game, tough business,” Tomlin said. “5-0 (Shazier) is our brother.”
What does Ryan Shazier mean to the Steelers?
Shazier has been the Steelers’ biggest defensive playmaker since they took him in the first round of the 2014 draft.
He means so much more to the Steelers than that, as was seen in the way his teammates reacted immediately after his injury. They had a hard time holding back tears in the immediate aftermath and for the rest of the game.
“I don’t think Vince (Williams) stopped crying until after halftime, and that’s one of the most gangster dudes on the team,” safety Mike Mitchell said, via The MMQB’s Greg Bishop. “People had to grab him by the face mask and be like, ‘Yo, you’re the middle linebacker now. You can’t be sniffling.’”
The Steelers went on to win that game, beating the Bengals 23-20. They won four of their last five, locking up the second seed in the AFC before falling to the Jaguars in the Divisional Round.
He wasn’t on the field, but they didn’t do it without Shazier.
“When you see him, you know how much he loves football and wants to be out there for us,” linebacker Anthony Chickillo said, through the team’s website. “You just want to go hard for him. You just want to win for him.”
What’s Shazier’s prognosis?
Shazier started rehab days after undergoing surgery. He’s still very much a part of the Steelers, even if he never takes the field again.
Shazier and his family believe that he will play again.
“Yes, I do,” Vernon Shazier said. “I Shalieve.” Shazier and his family consistently use that play on Shazier’s last name and the word “believe“ when talking about his injury.
The injury was terrifying, and it’s difficult to even think about whether Shazier can or will play football in the future. What matters now is just Shazier’s continued recovery.