“Justyn is in a position to make this decision for himself.”

If you think back to last season’s opener, one thing we Dawg fans were reminded of as the game approached was Justyn Ross’ return for Clemson.  He had been one of the best receivers in college football before he lost a season due to a serious spinal injury.  I don’t know about you, but at the time I didn’t realize just how serious his condition was.

What makes his evaluation even more difficult? Ross is attempting to become the first known player to make the NFL with a congenital fusion in his spine.

“Justyn has a condition that is very rare, and to my knowledge, there is no precedent of another high-level American football player with this condition playing football,” said Dr. David Okonkwo, who performed the surgery on Ross that allowed him to return to play. “So we were paving new road as we went through the process.”

FROM THE BEGINNING, there was one glimmer of hope that Ross clung to: the potential for surgery to relieve the pressure on his spine, which would give him a chance to play again. But even then, there would be no guarantees.

Shortly after the diagnosis, the coronavirus pandemic shut down campus and Ross went back home to Alabama. He continued to work out, telling himself the doctors would realize they made a mistake, that he was fine, that he did not need surgery. The hit he took that started all this was nothing compared to harder hits in his career, and nothing had ever happened to him.

Reality said something different. Over the next several weeks, multiple neurosurgeons told Ross they would not clear him to play football, saying the risks including paralysis or even death. Despite that, Ross pressed forward trying to save his career.

Ross’ condition, Klippel-Feil syndrome, isn’t curable.  He and his family became convinced that it was treatable, though.

“Dr. Okonkwo is very confident in what he says, he’s very knowledgeable about his work, so he made us feel comfortable when we met him,” Franklin said. “He never made me feel like he had any doubt in what he could do. So that’s where we got the confidence that OK, we can go ahead and do this.”

Ross had the surgery in June 2020. Okonkwo removed a disc that was pushing backward to free up space for the spinal cord, leaving behind a graft and plate to hold everything together.

“The procedure itself is a very common procedure, but this procedure for this specific reason is very rare,” Okonkwo said. “It is virtually unique to have done this surgery in someone with Klippel-Feil syndrome, who happens to be one of the most talented football players in the United States of America.

It’s that “who happens to be” part where it starts feeling a little creepy.  And speaking of creepy,

Swinney and chief of football administration Woody McCorvey flew to Pittsburgh to be with Ross and his mother, then spoke with Okonkwo afterward.

“I asked him, ‘How did the surgery go?'” Swinney said. “I said, ‘Did you go 9-3 or 6-6? He said, ‘I went 15-0.’ And I said, ‘Well, I like that answer.'”

But Okonkwo also cautioned Swinney, telling him even if Ross did everything right, there was still a chance he wouldn’t be able to play.

Well, Ross did play last season for Clemson, finishing with team highs in catches (46) and receiving yards (514).  All that led him to being projected as a mid-round pick in the NFL draft.  As it turned out, not only was Ross not drafted, he also hasn’t been offered a free agent contract by any team.  Which leads to the uneasy conclusion that NFL teams are more concerned about his health than Clemson or Ross are.

Look, I’m not saying there are any bad people here.  A pro football career was Justyn Ross’ ticket to supporting himself and his family after school and Dabo Swinney is being paid big bucks to win games, something a contributing Ross would help achieve.  It’s clear that plenty of due diligence was done before allowing Ross to play and, in the end, it was his call to make.  Or was it?  The NFL is more of a business than is Clemson, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think, and it’s a little sad to consider that Clemson was willing to go where 32 other teams don’t appear to be.


UPDATE:  Weirdly enough, this makes me feel slightly better.

I hope everyone involved knows what they’re doing.


Filed under Clemson: Auburn With A Lake, The Body Is A Temple, The NFL Is Your Friend.

22 responses to ““Justyn is in a position to make this decision for himself.”

  1. ApalachDawg aux Bruxelles

    did this dude get his degree?
    look what happened to Nakobe (for a shoulder injury) – i imagine the NFL doesn’t want this potentially bad PR when/if this cat were to take a hit on MNF and he dies or doesn’t get up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gastr1

      Right. But Clemson, and Dabo, who is the champion of all things just and right, have a better PR grasp on it (and better lawyers?), I guess.


  2. But but but Dabo is so concerned about his players! Would’ve been a real shame if Ross had had to end his football career and Dabo’d had to pull his scholarship. He just wanted to make sure he still got a good education!


  3. munsonlarryfkajim

    Their offense was terrible last year but I’m amazed Ross came back and was their leading receiver. Look at D’wan Mathis or any number of ACL tears to see how hard it can be to come back mentally, in addition to the physical challenges


  4. JuanSolo

    I cannot stand Dabo. Probably more than the average person. In my eyes, he is a cross between a small town car dealership GM and a bible salesman.

    With that said, this post seems to be reaching a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. reipar1

    Jarvis Jones.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. mg4life0331

    I don’t recall the NFL owing him anything? Its not a matter of Clemson doing its due diligence and someone else not. The NFL didn’t want to, and it didn’t.


  7. Ran A

    All 32 teams passed on the guy and with WR being the most sought after position in the draft. Really believe that this tells you all you need to know. The more I learn about Dabo – the less I like him.


  8. classiccitycanine

    After watching Nakobe Dean plummet to the back of the 3rd round, I’m not sure we should assume the NFL is better at judging players and their health than the colleges.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Russ

      Yeah, this is my take as well.

      The kid and his family found a surgeon that gave then the answer they wanted to hear. I can’t say that I blame them. I don’t see where Clemson pushed them into it. Obviously the NFL is more risk averse.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. godawgs1701

    I’m usually here for any criticism of Dabo Swinney, but I have zero problems with his decision to play Justyn Ross. reipar1 above points out our own situation with Jarvis Jones, but to me that’s not even a direct comparison – unlike the Jarvis story, Ross was never ruled by any doctor to be unable to continue his career. Jarvis was medically DQ’d by the medical staff at USC and then got the second opinion he wanted and was an All-American and NFL star for Georgia and Pittsburgh. I’m glad for it, but at the time I remember being worried it could turn out badly for him.

    Ross’ story is that the doctor who performed his surgery cleared him and the Clemson medical staff also cleared him. I didn’t watch enough Clemson football to know if he looked like the same player from before the injury. The fact that he hasn’t even been picked up as an undrafted free agent tells me that NFL teams are concerned that the injury risk outweighs the potential rewards. That’s fine for them because they have the entire incoming class of players to choose from as well as all of the players who were already in the league. Clemson didn’t. Justyn Ross wanted to play and his doctor said it would be OK. Nobody at Clemson is a ghoul for letting it happen.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Leggo5

      Not sure how comparable the Jones and Ross medical conditions were, other than they were both spinal injuries. The fact that an NFL team drafted Jones in the 1st Round and nobody is willing to give Ross even a UFA contract tells me that they’re very different medical scenarios.


      • godawgs1701

        Quite possibly. All I’m saying is that Jarvis Jones had a college medical staff DQ him and Ross did not. NFL teams passing on him for more certain players isn’t necessarily the same thing as them declaring him medically untouchable. Jarvis Jones, after all, had two full seasons of top-level play to show them after his Georgia career. Ross had one season of decent-to-good play at Clemson. He wasn’t a top draft pick anymore and thus it became a risk-reward proposition. I hope that he will do great things with the Chiefs and make their team. He deserves it. All I guess I’m saying is that if his doctor cleared him, Clemson’s doctors cleared him, and he wanted to play and wasn’t forced to play in order to keep a scholarship (which certainly didn’t seem to be the case) then who is the bad guy in this story? I don’t see one.


  10. ASEF

    The UDFA part of it seems remarkable – but WRs in that category are usually looked at as serviceable back-ups who can carry the load on special teams. Handling some of the most violent plays in the game.

    The NFL could be simply making a value decision here – lots of players with equal value to Ross without any serious medical question marks. The “equal value” part of it would be looking at his tape from last year and not seeing anything close to the player he was as a freshman.

    Not sure what to make of it. There’s a level of player even below UDFA – Ross can try out for any NFL team who gives him permission to step onto their field. If no one even allows that? Panthers and Falcons say, “No thanks?”

    That would make things far less murky. But I definitely understand the queasiness. I was uncomfortable watching him play last season.


  11. The kid is surrounded by people answering the question for him that risk of serious injury or worse is worth several million dollars. I doubt any if those influencers would make the same decision for themselves.


  12. Tommy Perkins

    To make a comparison between a team deciding what to do with a player already on its roster and any of 32 teams that don’t is a false dichotomy. You can debate what obligations Clemson has to Ross as a scholarshipped member of the team; a team that doesn’t have him on its roster has no obligation whatsoever. Much easier for them to take the high road.

    The analogy that comes to mind is house hunting, where you get scared off by an inspection report that details problems far more benign than the ones you’ve been tolerating in your own home for years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure what difference that makes. If Clemson was convinced the health risk was too great, it could have placed Ross on a medical scholarship.


      • Tommy Perkins

        Maybe, but in this era, with Ross effectively going into a contract season, they might as well have thrown him into the portal. What Ross has is an incurable condition, not an injury. If you medically DQ him in 2021, there’ll never be a reason to lift that status going forward. And their odds of finding a player in the portal equal to Ross’ value are likely less than an NFL team’s ability to find a Ross equivalent in the draft.


  13. I really hope he remains healthy & is able to earn a living safely in the NFL. He seems to have a great desire to play and a drive to get there. I always pull for a young man like that.