Steelers Star Ryan Shazier Finally Accepts His Alopecia in NFL Retirement

Ryan Shazier reluctantly announced his retirement. While injuries held back his sadly short career, he can still hold his head high. When healthy, the linebacker was a crucial piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defensive line. And the news of his retirement was a sad end to several years of struggles.

Shazier faced another understated struggle well before his major injury. While playing in the NFL, he rarely acknowledged that he has Alopecia. Shazier has come to terms with his longtime diagnosis in retirement, and he’s using his platform for good.

Ryan Shazier’s rise in the NFL

Pittsburgh Steelers' Ryan Shazier
Ryan Shazier of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019 | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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Shazier’s resume entering the NFL was as good as it gets. His 100 plus tackles in each of his last two seasons at Ohio State, details Sports Reference, made him an easy top prospect for the 2014 NFL draft. Sure, he wasn’t as big as most of his peers at LB. But his work on the field and speed spoke for itself. Shazier went 15th overall to the Steelers, robbing the Cowboys of their planned 16th overall pick.

In his rookie year, he put up 36 tackles, and two tackles for a loss. Injuries kept him from his full potential, and he only played nine games. This became a recurring issue. But Shazier compensated for it by demolishing the competition when he did play. In 2016, as Behind the Steel Curtain reports, his stat line was 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks — in only 12 games.

2017 looked to solidify Shazier’s legacy in the annals of Steelers history. After a 9-2 run for the Pittsburgh squad, however, disaster struck. The Washington Post reports that in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Shazier went for a seemingly routine tackle against rookie Josh Malone. After the play, Malone got back up as normal. Shazier didn’t. The stadium went quiet as he was carted off the field on a stretcher.

Ryan Shazier’s Alopecia diagnosis

On-field injuries held Shazier’s career back. But during his run, when he was healthy and fully expecting to play for a long career, he was more worried about his off-the-field diagnosis: Alopecia. The Mayo Clinic describes alopecia as “widespread hair loss that can be temporary or permanent.” For Shazier, it was mostly permanent.

Shazier wrote in The Player’s Tribune that he used to be embarrassed of his hair loss. As a toddler, he even had a burgeoning afro. That changed when he was five years old, and his hair began inexplicably falling out. His immune system was attacking his hair follicles. It led to a childhood riddled with bullying, but also one that left him almost entirely inoculated to frivolous insults.

In 2017, the year that ended up being his last as an active player in the NFL, his hair suddenly started growing. Such is the strangeness of alopecia, a disorder that seems to work differently for everyone who gets it. Fellow Steeler James Harrison noticed it first, saying “Bruh,” eyes going wide, as he noticed the patchy hair growing in. Yet Shazier wrote that he didn’t feel any different. He was already comfortable with his identity, hair or no.

Shazier enjoys his NFL winnings in retirement

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Shazier didn’t want to leave the NFL without at least trying to stage a comeback. He worked absurdly hard for two years and made great strides in rehabbing his spine. Unfortunately, as CBS Sports reports, he wasn’t able to recover to NFL LB standards.

That doesn’t mean he’s hit the end of his football career. The Steelers kept him involved with the team since his injury. He’s exploring opportunities in scouting and coaching. Playing is just one aspect of the industry around the NFL, and he’s not given up just yet.

Shazier has turned his increased comfort with Alopecia into a strength since retiring. He’s worth an estimated $4 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. A portion goes to his Alopecia awareness campaign, an initiative he spearheads under the umbrella of the Creative Artists Agency. Now, he helps kids and young adults learn to cope with the disease.