The other day, Zachary Orr, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, announced his retirement at the age of half of 48. He came out of college undrafted, but found a spot on the Ravens roster and was on his way to being a central part of their defense.
But toward the end of this past season, after leading the team in tackles, he missed the final game with what was called a neck injury. After the season, a routine MRI to check his neck revealed a rare congenital spine condition. Orr's C1 vertebra isn’t fully formed at the top of his spinal cord, and that meant huge risk of paralysis, or death, had he kept on playing football.
The doctors who examined Orr said they couldn't believe how lucky he had been to play football through high school, college (North Texas) and three years at the most competitive level without suffering a major injury.
And they also told him that he would never be able to pass a physical exam to play again, which made his retirement inevitable.
"This is something I was born with and it’s something that less than 1% of the world population has," Orr told reporters. "It’s at the top of my spine and something that never formed completely. It puts me at an increased risk, more than we are already at (as football players), for a fatality or being paralyzed. This pretty much disqualifies me from playing collision sports."
I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have spent all that time preparing for one's chosen career, only to have it truncated by some unseen physical problem. Like a craftsperson who suddenly develops arthritis of the hands, or a musician who faces deafness that came on with no hint, it means that Orr, still less than a quarter century in age, has to pick up his belongings and move along.
Sure, he earned a nice dollar for these three years, and probably has insurance enough to set up him nicely for the next stage, but sometimes, it would be good for us all to stop and think about the final lines of "The Circus Animals' Desertion," by William Butler Yeats:
Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
Unlike the speaker in the poem, though, Orr is a young man, with health intact, and a future to make all his own! I wish him luck, and good heart.