As often the case with younger children, a detriment or abnormality of one may result in being made fun of or ridiculed by others. Bullying is a commonplace in today’s society, and it’s not taken lightly either. From after school fights to stealing lunch money, it can be a challenging aspect of everyday life for kids growing up. Such was the case during the earlier years of the Steelers’ 2014 first round pick, Ryan Shazier.
Shazier has suffered from alopecia areata since he was around 5 years of age. This ailment is a certain kind of hair loss that happens when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks follicles of hair, resulting in round, hairless patches on the scalp. In some cases, like Shazier’s, a complete loss of both scalp and body hair occurs. According to his father, Vernon Shazier, Ryan was a victim of some harsh words growing up, being called things like “Cue ball” and “Patch.”
“A lot of people think I’m just bald,” Shazier said, according to the website HisHairClinic.com. “It probably bothered me when I was younger. I was only 5 years old, the only bald kid in kindergarten.”
At first, as it probably would with any child, Shazier beat himself up over it, allowing the pokes and prods by classmates get to him. Eventually, he found ways to overcome it, thanks to some words of wisdom from his parents, especially his father.
Vernon, a former preacher, has served as a chaplain for the Miami Dolphins, so his words of wisdom were taken directly to heart by Ryan.
“My message is always to act like a champion,” Vernon said, according to Zack Meisel of Northeast Ohio Media Group. As Shazier grew older, the taunts became less and less, coinciding with his rapid success on the football field. According to him, he thinks it had to do with an intimidation factor, and his reputation as a heavy hitter on the gridiron.
“From Little League and up to high school, everybody said I was pretty explosive and had a really good hips as a tackler,” Shazier said, according to HisHairClinic.com. “Once you’re known as a big hitter, you’re always a known as a big hitter, so people kind of tense up when they see you.”
Explosive was perhaps the best adjective most draft analysts attached to Shazier coming out of Ohio State in the 2014 NFL Draft, and after being labeled “old” and “slow” by analysts like Warren Sapp, Shazier seemed to fit the bill in terms of an injection of youth and out-of-this-world athleticism into Pittsburgh’s defense.
Although his promising rookie year was hampered by injuries, it presents the challenge to one-up the critics who said he’s too light to play inside linebacker, he’s another combine “workout warrior”, etc. It’s a challenge he can easily overcome, much like the bullying he experienced growing up, and if Shazier can avoid the injury bug, he has all the makings for a future star. I’ll even go out on a limb and say perhaps the next great linebacker in a long line of them to don the black and gold. And as far as his alopecia goes, it’s something he actually embraces now.
“I feel like it’s my signature now,” he said, according to ESPN.com reporter Scott Brown. “Having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”