OWINGS MILLS – Ravens inside linebacker Zach Orr had no choice but to retire, after a physical examination detected a spinal condition that made it extremely dangerous for him to continue his career.
“I have a condition that I was born with,” Orr said Friday, making his formal retirement announcement during a press conference. “I’m forced to walk away from the game of football.”
Orr said a CAT scan revealed a rare congenital abnormality, and that the top of his spinal column had never fully developed. Orr was never aware of his issue until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Steelers on Christmas that led to further testing.
While Orr never imagined he would retire at age 24, he felt blessed to be leaving the game before his condition led to a catastrophic injury. Orr has been playing football with his spinal condition since he was nine years old, and said doctors could not explain how he had played so long without his issue being detected.
“When I first found out the news, it was shocking,” Orr said. “Football is something I’ve done my whole life.”
Orr said retirement was his only option, because he would never pass an NFL physical. He also said that reports the Ravens tried to talk him out of retirement were inaccurate.
“They’ve supported me through this,” said Orr, who added that one of his high school teammates was paralyzed playing football.
Orr kept his composure during the press conference, but admitted he took the news hard at first. One of those emotional moments came after a telephone conversation with recently retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.
“I broke down a couple of times, as recent as a couple of days ago,” Orr said.
Three of Orr’s teammates attended Friday’s press conference – linebackers C. J. Mosley and Albert McClellan, and safety Eric Weddle. General manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and linebackers coach Don Martindale were also in attendance. Orr is one of the most popular and respected players in the locker room. An undrafted free agent in 2014, Orr made the team as a special teams standout and earned a starting job for the first time this season. He led the Ravens in tackles (130), finishing 10th in the NFL in that department.
Orr had a bright future as a player. Now, that future will head in another direction.
“Instead of asking – ‘Why me?, ask ‘What’s next?’” Orr said.
“I’m very proud that he’s been a Raven,” said Harbaugh. “I can’t wait to see what the next door holds.”
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