PITTSBURGH — Ryan Shazier is making progress and relying on faith and prayer to cope with a severe spinal injury suffered Dec. 4, Shazier’s father, Vernon, said in an interview with ESPN.
“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.”
Shazier, the fourth-year Steelers linebacker and two-time Pro Bowler, underwent spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6 after a collision on Monday Night Football. He spent two nights in a Cincinnati hospital and remains in a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center facility for rehabilitation.
Shazier’s appearance at Heinz Field for Sunday’s Steelers-Patriots game was his first trip out of the hospital.
“We’re praying for healing and keeping our mind and faith strong,” Vernon said. “We know we’re in a deep valley, but we do not feel alone.”
Before the interview, Vernon, an NFL chaplain who’s been in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with his son since the injury, clarified he couldn’t get into specifics about the injury.
But he continued with powerful perspective.
“It’s easy to be faithful in a storm, but we’re not talking about a drizzle,” Vernon said. “We’re talking about a hurricane, a category 5 [hurricane], lots of metaphors to describe it.”
The Shaziers have looked to the outpouring of support nationally as a source of strength. They’ve limited visitors to close friends and family, teammates and select members of the Steelers organization. But Shazier has been uplifted by the constant texts, emails and social media messages — and even end zone prayers, via Browns running back Duke Johnson.
Those inside and outside the NFL have expressed concern.
“You’ve got little kids that are praying for him. He has over a million people praying for him,” Vernon said. “It’s coming from so many different sources. … I got an email from a kid who has a medical issue, where Ryan has touched his heart. You have kids wishing Ryan gets better for Christmas. It’s keeping us up.”
And the occasional distraction has been good for Shazier, whose appearance in Heinz was like “therapy,” Vernon said. In the first quarter, Shazier was shown on the giant video screen waving a Terrible Towel from a suite.
Teammates who have visited Shazier said they noticed how eager the linebacker is to talk Steelers strategy. On Tuesday, Shazier was announced as a Pro Bowl representative for his 89 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles through 12 games.
“Ryan had two goals going into the year — a Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl,” Vernon said. “He’s been able to check one off the list. He’s hoping to check the next one off.”
The harsh reality of severe NFL injuries hasn’t affected Vernon’s outlook on the sport just yet. He’s been in and around the game for 16 years. Shazier’s parents are based in South Florida but will consider Pittsburgh home for a while to be with their son.
“The reality of the game is that it’s a violent sport. I naturally pray for those guys going out there every game,” Vernon said. “Any day there’s a football game playing, I’m praying. About whether people should play, I don’t think I’m at that point to think about it.”
Then he added more about the family’s perspective as they pray for daily improvements.
“We haven’t asked why. Bad things happen to good people,” Vernon said. “But God’s always faithful.”
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