Adrian Clayborn and Erb's Palsy: An Opinion From a Fellow Sufferer

Fellow Buccaneer fans, my name is Kevin, but you know me better as "Landlubber" on Bucs Nation.  In addition to being a lifelong Buc fan, I also share something with our 1st round draft pick, Adrian Clayborn.  I was born with Erb's Palsy in my right shoulder/arm.  After the Bucs drafted Clayborn, this site--among others--was alive with speculation about his condition, as well as how it would affect his transition to the NFL.  While I cant speak to his future production with any accuracy, I can give a unique perspective on what it must have taken for him to ascend to the level at which he played in college.  Even more so, what a feat it is for him to go from a birth injury that forces doctors to tell the sufferer that he/she will never be "normal" or play sports, to being drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.

First, the boring jargon.  Erb's Palsy is an injury to the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves that spans from the neck, through the shoulder, and on through the arm.  These nerves allow for sensation and motor function in the corresponding limb.  The injury is most commonly suffered during birth, with varying levels of consequences, the most severe of which being paralysis of the arm.  In Clayborn's case, as well as mine, the result is the inability to extend the right arm fully, as well as a slight stunting of growth , both in length of the arm as well as muscle tone.  A significant difference in strength in the affected arm can also occur, as it did with my injury.  In lieu of risky surgery whose results are unproven, physical therapy is the only way to recover any range of motion or strength in the affected limb.

For a person whose job doesn't include intense physical altercations with 300+lb behemoths every few seconds, Erb's Palsy may not seem like a big issue.  But Adrian Clayborn picked a profession in which this is his primary job description.  His perseverance in athletics despite an injury that put him at a disadvantage every time he laced up his cleats is to be commended.  In his post-draft interview with Suzy Kolber, Clayborn referenced, with a knowing smirk, those who told him he would never be able to play sports, but his calm demeanor did not fully reflect just how laudable an accomplishment this is.  I feel an affinity with Clayborn, as I too played defensive end in high school and had to try to overcome an obstacle that, statistically speaking, none of my opponents had to deal with.  I couldn't help but well up with pride in seeing Clayborn in the pewter and red, as I reflected on the difficulty of keeping up with my peers while having a built-in "handicap" that was supposed to be an insurmountable hindrance to my participation in athletics.

Playing high school football with Erb's Palsy was a day-to-day struggle to keep pace with my teammates at practice, and with my opponents on game day.  Nobody--particularly a high school aged male--wants to fall behind or to admit that what is asked of him is beyond his ability.  But with an injury such as Erb's Palsy, mind over matter doesn't always cut it.  Competing with my peers with one good arm was no walk in the park, neither at practice nor on game day.  Post-practice lifting sessions in the weight room became daily stresses for me as I tried to find new ways to keep my injury a secret, for fear of ridicule from my "able-bodied" teammates, as well as demotion from my starting spot by my coaches, who any football player will tell you don't take kindly to weakness, real or perceived.  It was a daily challenge, but one I had to answer, if for no better reason than they said I couldn't.

Adrian Clayborn accepted the challenge as well.  He pushed himself beyond what the doctors told him was possible and not only played, but excelled, at a level that most "able-bodied" players never reach.  And with his selection in the first round of the NFL draft, he continues to defy the odds.  Asked by Suzy Kolber what it meant to reach the pinnacle of his sport with what can be such a debilitating injury, he said, "It means keep pushing.  People told me I'd never play football.  I kept going.  Whatever you dream, don't let anyone take it from you."  The next chapter in Clayborn's story begins now.  Nobody can say what the rest of his career holds.  Just don't tell him he can't do it.

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