Steelers: Shazier’s toughest opponent doesn’t wear cleats


It’s obvious that the Steelers knew what they were doing when they took LB Ryan Shazier in the first-round (15th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was given the starting job at ILB right out of the gate.

Per Tom Reed of, no defender was given the starting job in their rookie year since LB Kendrell Bell (2001). That’s right. Not even Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton or Lawrence Timmons started in their rookie campaigns.

Most defensive rookies for the Steelers would sit out their first year in order to learn (ex-defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau’s ‘Good Will Hunting-like’ 3-4 scheme. We’ve seen what Shazier is capable of, but aside from his injuries and becoming a leader on a Steelers defense in transition, Shazier has a bigger battle off the field.

Despite excelling in football, Shazier was made fun of a lot in school. Kids would call him patch, patchy or cue ball. What these kids did or didn’t know was Shazier suffered from a disease known as Alopecia.

According to WebMD, Alopecia is a type of hair loss that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, which is where hair growth begins. It’s most common in people younger than 20, but children and adults of any age may be affected. Men and women are affected equally.

Shazier’s parents were his greatest defenders, especially his mom. My wife was ready to fight in the stands,” Vernon Shazier, Ryan’s dad, said by telephone. “People are cruel.”  

With all of the success that Shazier has had so far, he’s now setting out to help people with the same condition. Shazier has even gotten his agency Creative Artists Agency involved in the fight.

“I know there are a lot of people struggling with it right now,” Shazier said. “I just took it and embraced it, and I really feel like it made me the person I am now. I definitely want to help out.”

All of Shazier’s time in high school wasn’t all bad. He eventually became a popular, happy high schooler, according to Vernon. The bald head that Shazier was once trying to hide, was becoming a part of him that a lot of people enjoyed. He had confidence and football ability that were a million miles long.

“Everybody goes through their own adversity, but it’s tough when you’re younger and everyone has hair,” Shazier said. “It toughened me up a little bit and made me realize no matter what the situation, it really doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t struggle with it.”

Next: Steelers looking forward

Shazier isn’t the only athlete to live with Alopecia. NBA player Charlie Villanueva of the Dallas Mavericks  also lives with the condition. Shazier has asked Villanueva to assist him in helping others with Alopecia and raising awareness of this disease.

Shazier has overcome many obstacles in his life. He’s now set out to show people with Alopecia that if you put your mind to something, no one (or no disease) can stop you.