During a 2007 game against the Denver Broncos, NFL free safety Ryan Clark had to be rushed to the hospital.
Clark, who had suffered from sickle cell trait since his childhood, had endured a splenic infraction, which is common in high altitudes for those with sickle cell. He had to have both his spleen and gallbladder removed, which resulted in losing 30 pounds.
Doctors didn’t think he’d ever play football again.
Then the season got even worse.
Clark, who was playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, also suffered the loss of his former Washington Redskins teammate, Sean Taylor, who was shot by intruders in his Miami home on Nov. 27, 2007.
The following season, Clark defeated all odds and returned to the football field; in honor of Taylor, he vowed to wear No. 21, Taylor’s number, during practices.
On top of that, the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that season and Clark was presented with the Ed Block Courage Award, an annual award given to NFL players who are role models of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage. In all reality, Taylor was the one who inspired him.
When Clark returned to the Redskins for a second stint the following season, he got permission from Taylor’s long-time girlfriend, Jackie, and Redskins team owner, Dan Snyder, to wear his actual jersey during practice.
“It starts conversations,” Clark told CSNwashington.com in May 2014. “People ask me why do you wear it? And how you feel about wearing it? So I get to talk about Sean and then it starts more conversations about him. It’s my way of keeping his name in the consciousness. It’s my way of making people have reason to talk about him.”
Another inspiration of Clark’s is his faith.
“I grew up with a mom that went to work eight days a week,” Clark says in a recent video produced by Game Plan For Life. “For me, I had that foundation, but I had to lose it for a while to gain it. I went to college for a while, and I had this freedom I never had…when I truly got my salvation was when I made it to the NFL… People think that once you find God and salvation you won’t struggle, you won’t struggle with temptation, that you won’t struggle with the things of this world, but you do. That’s why your faith has to continue to grow. And you gotta exercise it like you exercise your body. I can’t expect to play football well and not be in the gym. And you can’t expect your faith to be strong if you don’t work it.”
“The first verse I learned was 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘Any man who is in Christ is a new creation; the old things are gone, all things are made new.’ That was just so real to me because it was just saying, ‘Listen, all this you’ve done up to this point, you weren’t in Christ. But now that you’re in Christ, those things have to stop.’ If you have God, your life with be fruitful. If you don’t, you may feel like you’ve done things and accomplished things worldly, but it is nothing in substance.”