When announcing his retirement on January 20, 2017 during a press conference at Ravens headquarters, it was only natural that Zachary Orr, a young, improving NFL linebacker with his brightest and most lucrative days ahead, would appear solemn.
And he was.
But one look around at those in the audience, and it was easy to tell that he was the least solemn person in the room.
He talked about the next chapter in his life and you got the feeling that he would attack it, whatever it was, with gusto. He left no one in that room feeling like his life still couldn’t be a success.
During the presser, Orr explained that the life altering path was forced by the results of a CAT scan which revealed that his C1 vertebrae, the one closest to his skull and the smallest of all human vertebrae, had never completely formed – a birth defect. Exposure to the wrong kind of collision could result in permanent paralysis or death.
Not long after his opening statement and those of Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and a couple of coaches, Orr was asked this telling question by Jerry Coleman:
“When you got the news that this was something that goes back to birth, was that breaking news to you? Did you go out and seek a second or third opinion?”
Yes, it was breaking news”, replied Orr.
“We got multiple opinions from multiple doctors and spine specialists and everything like that. They all were just shocked. Everybody that broke down the situation to me were pretty much lost for words, because they were trying to figure out how I have been playing football this long without anything major happening. I look at it as a blessing that the Lord blessed me to play football this long.
“I have been playing 15 years. I started playing football when I was nine. I am just blessed that he allowed me to play the great game of football, allowed me to get a taste of it for this long without anything happening.”
That was a little over 5 months ago.
Today Zach Orr, inspired by the prognosis of Dr. Sanford Emery, a West Virginia spine specialist, announced that he has decided to return to the NFL. At least he is going to try.
Orr is a likeable, pleasant guy who gets along splendidly with his teammates and the media. It’s difficult not to root for Zachary Orr. But I’m about to.
I’m going to root against any team giving him the opportunity to play. The world needs more Zachary Orrs, not fewer. And if he’s hit the wrong way at the wrong time by the wrong person from the wrong angle, he will die.
Even if Orr is willing to sign an injury waiver absolving any team from any responsibility in the event of a spinal injury, no team should provide the opportunity. No team should allow him the chance to die. His C1 birth defect is something that 1% of the population has and of that 1%, how many play linebacker in the NFL?
The world will get over the loss of one linebacker who plays for 10 years faster than it will and exemplary human being who could contribute to society for much longer.
You might say that it’s Orr’s life and it’s up to him.
Well not if the league stiff-arms his comeback attempt.
The NFL is a league that is now under scrutiny for head injuries to retired players and they’re hiding of pertinent research on such injuries has been challenged. They are also under scrutiny for the measures they are taking today to improve the game’s safety. Given such scrutiny, why would any team consider hiring Orr? The league is trying to remove black eyes, not add permanent scars. Hiring Orr would be akin to a bus company accused of fudging driver safety records, suddenly deciding to hire Stevie Wonder as a new driver.
On social media today, I’m seeing fans wonder aloud if Orr is trying to pull one over on the Ravens by using the injury/retirement to circumvent restricted free status in order to achieve unrestricted free agent status.
The Ravens medical staff was very involved in the process and prognosis of Orr. Why would they doctor records to help Orr become a free agent?
A more legitimate question posed to me earlier was, “Could the Ravens receive a compensatory pick for Orr if another team signs him?”
The answer is, “No!”
Once the Ravens failed to extend a restricted free agent tender to Orr by April 21, he became a free agent. Since the May 9th tender date came and went, any signing afterwards would not factor into the comp pick equation.
You might wonder why the team didn’t assign Orr to the Retired List in the event of a comeback as a way to retain control of him. But then again, maybe they didn’t after seeing the severity of the situation.
The Ravens, in the end, couldn’t see how they or any other team would consider taking the risk of putting Zach Orr back out on the field again, given the potential consequences.
And while I wish him all the best, I hope no other team takes that risk either, for Zach’s sake and that of his family.