(New York City) From a distance, Ryan Shazier appears to be a young man who stylistically swims against the tide. Unlike many of those taken in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night the former Ohio State linebacker sports no dreadlocks or facial hair. He seems to present as serious, indeed stoic fellow ready to strap onto his bald head the helmet of the serious, stoic Pittsburgh Steeler team that selected him fifteenth overall on the first night of the annual NFL hype-fest.
Undeniable, however, is that the Steelers’ selection of Shazier signals not only that team’s commitment to linebacker excellence, but also a new era for the NFL, because their newest player will be the first android to play in the league.
You see, Ryan Shazier doesn’t shave his head; he cannot grow hair anywhere on his body. (His minimalist mustache and eyebrows are actually polyester implants.)
Shazier’s “story,” in a sense, began in February, when he was “outed” as a creation of several sub-entities of Lockheed Martin in a controversial Vanity Fair article. Contacted Thursday, writer Amanda Petty, who penned that piece, said, “This was one of the toughest pieces I’ve ever done. Ryan had kept his inception reality from his college teammates, and at several points during my interview with him, it looked like he might break down and cry. Of course, he can’t actually cry, but in every other way, it’s impossible not to see him as a regular young man in his early twenties – you know, but one who’s in very good shape.”
Following that piece, the Steelers and seven other NFL franchises petitioned the league to allow Shazier’s eligibility for the draft, and the petition was granted in a midnight meeting of the league’s owners held on March 15. Only a handful of owners actually opposed the player’s eligibility, most notably Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who opined, “Look, there’s ACL surgery and all kinds of other surgery, plastic surgery and all that, but at the very least, this guy is “living” an unnatural lifestyle. (A YouTube video of Jones remarks, including his “air quotes” at the word “living,” has been pulled down following the protests by the five-member Machined Coalition for Inclusion.)
Key to the league’s decision was testimony by Lockheed Martin officials to the effect that, although Shazier’s skeleton is fiberglass, if one of his bones is hit hard enough by “a regular human football player,” it will break.
Most people who have spent time with Shazier or analyzed his situation seem to say that it’s very hard to see any actual, artificial advantage the Steelers will have, playing their first pick. Shazier was undoubtedly the defensive leader of his college team, which last year ranked seventh nationally against the run, but a seemingly very human 29th in total defense. The linebacker played in 39 games for the Buckeyes, recording 315 tackles (208 solos), 14 sacks, and one interception (returned for a touchdown), which are all figures well within the parameters expected of a very good player.
A very close examination of Shazier’s secondary measurements – non-game stats often bandied about by NFL fans – do hint at a kind of “otherness”: He has 42-inch vertical jump, and his 40-yard dash time is suspiciously fast for a linebacker, 4.38 seconds. Stranger still, the player’s 10-yard dash is 1.38, his 60-yard dash 6.38, and his 100 stopped the clock at 10.38.
With the dawn of the NFL’s machine age, however, Steeler fans from Aliquippa to Zelienople are willing to overlook the oddity of Shazier’s suiting up in black and gold. Ed Skeevey of McKeesport, PA, for example, who had walked from his hometown to Radio City Music Hall in the hope of seeing Shazier drafted by his beloved team, put it this way to an ESPN reporter Thursday night: “The younger generation is just more accepting. I don’t think Ryan will have any trouble in any pierogie shop anywhere in the ‘Burgh.”