Often times NFL players are larger than life. Whether it is their huge human structures, their bigger-than-life personas or their border-line ridiculous bank accounts. All factors can lead fans to think these men who wear a uniform and play a game for a living don't truly know what struggles are. However, when former Pittsburgh Steelers DT Ziggy Hood wrote for the The Players' Tribune, even the fortunate suffer and have challenges, regardless of their financial situation.
In the article, Hood opens up about being a parent to a son born with special needs. His first child, Josiah, was born with a series of disabilities which still hasn't been given a clear diagnosis, but Hood talks about what all parents of a child with disabilities feel at one point or another.
One of the hardest things to deal with is when my teammates bring their kids into the locker room to play around. You know everybody's having a good time. All the kids are roughhousing and causing trouble, and then I'm getting questions like, "Ziggy, where's your son at? How come you never bring him around?" I never really knew how to respond to that. What am I supposed to say, "My child has special needs and he can't do the things that normal kids do because of I'm afraid of him getting hurt." I play defensive tackle in the NFL — this isn't a profession where you talk about weakness that often. But every time I saw those little boys playing and making memories, I cried a little bit on the inside.
Hood no longer plays for the Steelers, but is now employed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Regardless, he owes this city of Pittsburgh a great deal of gratitude for all they did in helping his son throughout the early portion of his life and helping him improve to the best of his ability.
Over the years, we found great people to surround Josiah with to help his progress. Today, I still believe that the Pittsburgh area was the best place for him because the medical professionals who helped him were on top of everything. It was so much more than a job to them. I knew they actually cared about my boy. Even though I'm no longer a Steeler, I'll always have gratitude for what that city did for me and my family.
In the article Hood makes it strikingly clear how a parent with a child suffering from a disability feels at one time or another as they watch their flesh and blood deal with struggles in the present day, but also the feeling of protection and keeping them away from harm as they grow older in what can be a very unkind world.
One year after we had Josiah, my second son, Jeremiah, was born. Jeremiah is completely healthy and he loves to play with his older brother, even though we have to step in whenever he gets too rough. Right now, he doesn't realize the challenges Josiah faces, but I think a lot about how their relationship will evolve once they get older. I'm so protective of Josiah — if I ever hear a bad word directed towards him, I'm ready to throw down. But I know that I'm not always going to be there to defend him. There's going to come a time when Jeremiah's going to have to step in and defend his brother in front of bullies. When you love somebody who is completely dependent on others, you're constantly thinking about situations like that.
Hood's words strike a chord within me as I too am a parent of a child with special needs. As my son grows and progresses through his life, there are questions which will never be answered. "Why did this happen to our family?" "What did I do to have this happen to us?" "Of all the people, why us?" "Why are people so cruel and mean to those who are different?" "Why...just why?"
In the end, it boils down to people simply not knowing, and as Hood realizes this, he puts it into words perfectly.
Now, whenever I hear someone use the word "retard" in passing, I have to remind myself that the person simply hasn't had the experience of having a loved one plagued with a disability. It can happen to anyone.
For all fathers out there, Hood's message is perfect on Father's Day. If you are fortunate enough to be a father, you should always take the time to appreciate such a precious gift. Regardless of gender, health or disability - everyone who is a father should be thankful on this day, and Hood's story just helps magnify how fortunate we all should be.