The road to any recovery is long, hard, and often filled with doubters or naysayers. It’s not always that the doubters or naysayers are doing so out of hate, though that is often the case these days. In many cases, the doubters and naysayers are medical professionals expressing their opinions, but doubt coming from a professional doesn’t make it any less bitter to the ears.
For Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey, the doubt has become a fuel of sorts for his hopeful return to the National Football League. Shortly before Thanksgiving of last year, Bailey was shot twice in the head while waiting with his cousin and two small children outside of a friend’s house in Florida. While Bailey made a full recovery from the actual gunshots, the trauma to the head left his NFL future in major doubt.
These days, armed with what he calls “Steddy Ambition,” Bailey is pressing full steam ahead with his rehab and plans to play at least another seven years in the league before his days are done. The phrase is Bailey’s way of maintaining motivation and drive as he attempts to recover from an incident he was lucky to survive, but survival has been the name of the game for Bailey his whole life. This latest obstacle is just another hurdle to be overcome. Speaking to Geoff Coyle of West Virginia Illustrated, Bailey laid out his plans to return to the NFL in a comeback video.
“Since that incident, doctors have told me they don’t think I will make a return to the NFL,” Bailey said. “When somebody tells me I can’t do something, I do everything that I can to prove them wrong. I like to call it ‘Steddy Ambition’ and I will be making a return to the NFL.”
The prognosis for Bailey looks slim. Doctors have already told Bailey that his chances of playing the game again are basically nil and not. Fortunately for Bailey, we live in an era of medicine that has seen athlete after athlete defy medical expectations and return to play the sports they love. This will be a different beast, however. With heightened awareness of head trauma and CTE, teams are under more pressure than ever before to look after the neurological well being of their players, past and present.
“My neurosurgeon is also extremely concerned about me making a return to the NFL,” Bailey said. “When I got shot in the head, it was pretty much one of the worst kind of concussions you can have and with football being such a physical sport, guys have concussions all the time. I would say that’s the scariest part about [returning to the NFL.]
“At the end of the day, I want to have my mind functioning where I can be a good family. I can be a good dad, and just be myself. That’s one thing that I think is scary. In my life, I have three priorities; things that I look to take care of. Number one is God, number two is family, and number three is football.”
The heightened awareness of brain trauma and mental health has given many players pause before resuming their careers. There are growing numbers of players have opting for retirement instead of subjecting their bodies to further injury. The Rams’ NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers saw their star linebacker Chris Borland retire at the age of 24, citing fear of brain damage. For Borland, the idea of playing football was simply not worth what he could lose on the back end of his life.
In some cases, coaches have taken it upon themselves to medically retire players. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh pressured defensive lineman Ondre Pipkins to medically retire from the team. Whether or not this was done for altruistic reasons is up for debate, but the toll football takes on the body can no longer be ignored. The fact that a coach can even use medical reasons to free up a roster spot for a more skilled player is a sign of just how much pressure the sport is under from the medical community.
Fisher knows there is a chance Bailey may not play again and Bailey seems to understand that there are more important things in life than football. But if Bailey is able to make a full recovery, there is no guarantee that he will return to form on the field. Per his own admission, his physical abilities are far from where they used to be and that’s going to be part of the process.
“I’ve had a huge drop off in how much weight I can lift,” Bailey said. “As far as being able to lift a lot of weights, I know that is something that is a process. I just kind of think back to when I first started lifting weights in my ninth grade year. I’ve come a long way since then, but I just think back to those times. You know, when times were hard, I was able to push through, and I know I’ll be able to get back to where I was if I just continue to work hard every day.
“It’s still a dream of mine to do big things in the NFL. I just came up on my third year of being in the league and I feel like I got so much more in me. I wanted to at least have a ten-year career. After three years, I still feel like I have a lot left in my tank. I’m just going to keep going and continue to live out my dream.”
Should Bailey find a way to overcome and persevere, the bright lights of Los Angeles will be waiting to shine on him for the next seven years.