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Always a Raven


Sep. 22, 2017 The Players Tribune

The word explode is what got my attention.

It’s just not a word you ever expect to hear from a doctor.

I’m sitting there, kind of dozing off. You know how a doctor’s office can put you to sleep? Everything’s white, it’s quiet, kind of cold. My dad and my agent are sitting there with me, waiting. Then the spine specialist that the Ravens had sent me to see walks into the room, looking all doctor-like in his white coat, holding the results from my MRI and CT scan.

He sits down and cuts right to the chase.

“In my medical opinion, you need to stop playing football immediately.”

That wakes me up.

The only reason I was even there was because I had suffered a herniated disc a couple of weeks earlier against the Steelers on Christmas Day. The injury ended my 2016 season, so the Ravens team doctors wanted to look at my spine to see what was happening. That was when they found something they hadn’t expected — “a serious cause for concern,” they called it.

I had just had a breakout season, and I was due to become a restricted free agent. I had signed with the Ravens in 2014 after going undrafted out of North Texas, so I was one of the lowest-paid players on the team. But the Ravens and I had had some preliminary talks last season that indicated I was in line to possibly get a second-round tender, which is worth about $2.8 million, for 2017 — far more than I had made in my first three years combined.

I had worked my whole life to put myself in this position. I was only 24 years old. My NFL career was just beginning.

And this guy’s telling me it’s over?

Is he serious?

Now, I’m no doctor, but I’ll do my best to explain what he told me next:

Apparently, I had been born with a rare congenital spine condition. My C-1 vertebrae — the one at the top of my neck, just below my skull — is not completely developed. It’s about 80% as big as it should be, and it’s also kind of split at each end, making it weaker and more prone to cracking, breaking or even shattering. And this is a problem because the C-1 helps control the movements of your head and neck. It also plays a big role in helping you breathe.

And then after throwing all this medical stuff at me, the doctor sums it up in terms I could understand a little better.

“If you take one hit the wrong way, your C-1 could explode.”

Explode?

“You could die, on the spot.”

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