All Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier needed to realize he was growing his natural hair back was for teammate James Harrison to take one look at him.
In an article he penned in The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, Shazier told the story of an elevator ride he took with Harrison, fellow Steelers LB Arthur Moats and Pittsburgh linebackers coach Joey Porter last November. The three were discussing how Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for 114 yards on Pittsburgh’s defense the day before when Harrison stopped mid-sentence when he noticed hair growing on Shazier’s head.
The week before, Shazier rubbed his head and noticed his bald head had a few rough patches and wasn’t as smooth as before. The 24-year-old former Ohio State star has alopecia, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks hair follicles, causing baldness.
As a kid, he didn’t understand his condition.
That was hard for me at first. I barely understood what was happening to my body, and kids were treating me like I was carrying some kind of plague. Sometimes I’d get angry and want to say something back. Other times I’d just want to cry.
It got worse when his family moved from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Waco, Texas, when he was 9.
That meant I was going to be the new kid in school. Easy target. I heard every insult you can think of …. Cueball. Patches. Chia pet.
Kids can be mean, there’s no doubt about that. But Shazier learned to kill the bullies with kindness — who wants to tease someone who doesn’t show anger or sorrow?
When Shazier entered high school, he tried everything from rubbing steroid cream on his head and eyebrows to cortisone shots to stimulate hair growth.
Every two weeks or so, I’d show up to the doctor’s office, and he would come in with a tray full of needles. And I’m telling you, these weren’t thin needles. The doctor would tilt my head one way and then jab the needle into my skull 15 times. Then the other side. Seriously, 15 times. Each side. Every two weeks. For all of high school.
Once Shazier arrived at Ohio State, he learned to accept his baldness and discontinued the shots. His Buckeyes coaches and teammates couldn’t care less about alopecia; they treated him as Ryan Shazier, the person.
That’s the message he has for everyone with alopecia. Whether one has hair doesn’t change them as a person.
If your hair magically grows back tomorrow, it’s not going to change who you are as a person, or what you’re capable of, or who loves you. I was the bald kid in high school. Then I was the bald kid at Ohio State. Then I was the bald guy in the NFL.
All it took for Shazier was a conversation with an NFL teammate to realize the astonishing journey he has been through.
And you know what? It didn’t change anything. I was amazed for like a day, but then I woke up the next morning, and I was still me, and I was like that Ezekiel Elliott, man. Damn.