When Ryan Shazier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, his ability to stifle opposing offensive weapons is what he has been trained to do. After all, he had been trained to do so nearly his entire life. However, when it comes to Shazier off the field, it hasn't always been a smooth experience throughout his trek to the NFL.
Shazier, who dons the appearance of a perfectly shaved head, suffers from the auto-immune disease, alopecia. Alopecia is when the immune system attacks the hair follicles in the body, causing the hair to fall out. Some who suffer from the disease have no body hair, while some only lose some of the hair. Regardless, for anyone growing up with such a disease, it can be difficult when trying to explain to classmates why you don't have hair.
According to Shazier, and his parents, it wasn't just students who were cruel growing up, but even parents. "My wife was ready to fight in the stands," Vernon Shazier, Ryan's dad, told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. "People are cruel."
Shazier recollects some of the nicknames he was called growing up: Patchy, Patch and Cue Ball were the most common, but Shazier didn't let the cruelty impact his ultimate goal of getting a college scholarship, and eventually landing in the NFL. Shazier accomplished both goals by attending Ohio State University prior to becoming a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Shazier's attention has now turned to helping others who are going through what he went through as a child, and still deals with as a 23-year old adult.
"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."
"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."
Shazier lived through the teasing and harassment of his peers, and now wants to make a difference for others. "He's experiencing another shift of evolution in his life," Vernon said. "He sees he has a platform to help others."
Shazier has reached out to Charlie Villanueva of the NBA, who also suffers from Alopecia, to help join the mission of helping those and raising awareness towards those with the disease. Shazier has also involved his agency, Creative Arts Agency, involved in he project.
Shazier was able to get through adolescence and make something of himself despite not having hair on his body, and now he seems dedicated to helping others realize they can reach achieve their dreams, even with Alopecia.