Teaming up to help others

For the third year, Steelers players are leading the Steelers Social Justice Grant program. Players are making donations to local organizations that are having an impact on the community, and the Steelers are matching the donations. The Steelers kicked off the 2020 Steelers Social Justice Grant program in December, and it continues today with JuJu Smith-Schuster making a difference in the community.

Ryan Shazier has been there.

He has experienced the pain, the suffering, the frustration, and ultimately the joy and satisfaction of victory.

Now, he wants others to be able to do the same. And he knows he can't do it without help.

Shazier's story is a well-documented one. He suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 4, 2017 and underwent spinal stabilization surgery two days later.

He has been an inspiration since that day, taking a positive approach to his recovery. He didn't sit around feeling sorry for himself, instead getting out and doing everything he could to fight back.

While many feared Shazier wouldn't walk again, he never let those thoughts keep him down. He worked continuously to get where he is today, having the ability to walk again and enjoy life, and his fight, his drive, his ambition has never gone unnoticed.

He was honored multiple times for his courage, including winning the 2019 George Halas Award, named by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). The Halas Award, named after the Hall of Famer and Chicago Bears icon, is presented to an NFL player, coach or staff member who has overcome the most adversity to succeed. Shazier, who officially announced his retirement from playing this past September, also won the Ed Block Courage Award.

But, that's not enough for Shazier. He wants the same feeling of victory for others that he has experienced, and that is why he launched the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation in November, to support spinal cord injury patients. His battle with his own injury, and his amazing recovery, inspired him to help others.

"My foundation is about people dealing with spinal cord issues. I dealt with the issue myself. I understand how much support and care you need for those with spinal cord issues," said Shazier. "Sometimes people don't get the right amount of care or support or rehab they need. I started this to give them more support, the caregivers more support and help them get more rehab. You always have to do some kind of rehab when injured. For spinal cord, usually you only get 30 sessions of rehab. That's like trying to teach your kid to walk again in 30 sessions. That is almost impossible.

"We are just trying to give people more rehab, opportunities, give people back a meaningful lifestyle. Everyone is not going to walk again but give them the opportunity to get back to some type of independence. That is what my foundation is about, giving people back independence, letting them do things on their own and just give them the opportunity to have support. A lot of time with spinal cord issues that is the end of the road for them. I wanted to give them an opportunity and let them know they aren't alone."

And Shazier isn't alone in wanting to help. Through the Steelers Social Justice Grant program, a program which is led by the players in an effort to engage with various factions, including law enforcement, charitable organizations, military and more to strengthen the community at large, JuJu Smith-Schuster is lending a hand to Shazier's efforts. He has donated $5,000 to the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation, with the Steelers matching the donation for a total of $10,000.

"I am truly thankful for this," said Shazier. "It means a lot. It lets you know the relationships you built while playing with guys, guys who are from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, really mean something. You have relationships that go beyond football.

"This doesn't just mean a lot to mean personally, though. It means a lot because it's going to help so many people who are going through the same thing I have gone through. JuJu has firsthand experience seeing what I have gone through when we played together. It's amazing to have someone like that, someone who was a teammate not just support me, but support others.

"It's great to see the young guys buy in to the social justice program, for them to see how important it is to help their community. To have the young guys understand it's as important as the older guys do is huge. They see how big the fight we are trying to help out with is. It's good to see those guys help out the same way the guys who have helped out for a while have been doing."

The support from Smith-Schuster means the world to Shazier, as does the support from the team. When Shazier retired, General Manager Kevin Colbert told him, "I want you to know, you can retire from the game of football, but you are never going to retire from being a Pittsburgh Steeler." He meant that. The team has been in Shazier's corner for a long time and are showing they always will be.

"That means a lot," said Shazier. "When I was playing it meant a lot to me that the team matched the donations. Now for the foundations who are benefiting, they are getting even more support, doubling what they are getting and that can make a huge difference for foundations trying to help others and the social justice movement in general.

"Just all of the support I have received from the team means so much. From the moment I got drafted by the Steelers, to when I started my foundation, they have always had my back, have always been there for me, someone I can lean on. It shows you the background of Pittsburgh. Everyone is blue-collar, hard-working, we stick together and continue to build this community. It just means a lot to have them in my corner."

And now, he wants to be in the corner for others. Shazier continues to work on fund-raising efforts for the foundation so they can launch their programs and he can provide the support others gave him.

"When I was going through this, I had tremendous support from the Steelers. I had help from friends and family members, people all over the country," said Shazier. "When I was in the hospital, I saw people didn't have the same support I had. It's my opportunity to give back the way I was given to. It's my opportunity to give back to others and I am excited."

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