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Bailey clings to NFL dream 2 years after shooting: ‘I don’t think God makes mistakes’

Following West Virginia’s pro day, receiver Stedman Bailey discusses being a “superhero dad” and aspiring for an NFL return.


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — He’s 27 years old, 28 months removed from a near-fatal drive-by shooting, sports a titanium plate in his head, and remains convinced he can play receiver in the NFL again. So Stedman Bailey’s appearance at West Virginia’s pro day transcended 40 times and route-running.

He was a third-year pro playing for the St. Louis Rams when football took a backseat to merely surviving. Now Bailey has been medically cleared to resume football activities, though he has yet to participate in a workout for any NFL team. With an emphasis on player safety, and particularly CTE, it’s hard to imagine the liability risk a club would take by signing Bailey. His mission now is to convince teams he’s worth it.

Excerpts from Thursday’s conversation with Bailey at WVU’s indoor facility:

Thinking back on Nov. 24, 2015, the day Bailey, his cousin, and two children survived a barrage of bullets after unknown assailants pulled alongside their car in Miami:
“I’m a religious person and I don’t think God makes mistakes. Me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, well, it sucks but I feel like He knew that I can handle it.”

On surviving two bullet wounds to the head that required delicate surgery and left Bailey hospitalized for 30 days:
“I try not to say luck, but blessed, extremely blessed. I shouldn’t even be standing here able to talk to you guys after taking two to the head. I really feel like God was with me and my family that night, because it could’ve been so much worse. There were some kids in the car and none of them were touched.”

On becoming an inspiring figure for people around him
“Everybody who’s close to me knows the love I have for the game, and the whole healing process for me has been very good. … It’s been a journey, quite an extraordinary journey, but I’ve faced adversity my whole life. So I look at it as a chance to show people that God is good. I feel like it’s bigger than me.”

Last October, acting on a surgeon’s recommendation, Bailey had a plate implanted in his head. Along with making everyday life safer for him, Bailey claims it opened the door to a possible NFL return:
“I had a surgery where doctors put a titanium steel plate in my head — it’s harder than a human skull. That pretty much changed the game for me from a safety standpoint. My doctor has said I’ll be fine. … I know when the opportunity’s given and teams bring me in, I’ll have to be seen by their doctors anyway. Now I’m like the man of steel, so hey, I’m ready.”

Effects of the shooting on his family:
“My son is 5 years old now, and I don’t think to this day he really understands what happened to me. He remembers me being in the hospital and I remember him saying ’Dad, when are you coming home?’ It’s something where I’ll tell him more when he gets older, because he’s too young to really fathom all that. But he’s got a superhero for a dad and that’s what I aspire to be — a role model for him first and foremost.”

Regarding the gun violence in Parkland, Fla, roughly 40 minutes from where Bailey’s shooting occurred:
“Sad, man. I feel like the news is always sad, there’s so much craziness happening in the world. I definitely said my prayers and sent my condolences. So many innocent lives taken. The whole thing about gun violence — and I know first-hand about it — it just sucks, it really sucks. I just wish we as people could just do better, just try to help one another and spread positive energy.”

The encouragement from his former WVU and Rams teammate Tavon Austin:
“Tavon’s been in my corner since Day One. (After the shooting), 15 of my teammates from St. Louis flew down to visit me in the hospital, and of course, Tavon was leading the way. He really wanted to come here (to pro day) bad just to cheer me on. But I was like, ‘Bro, it will be great to see you around but I got it.’ That’s just the brotherhood we have. We’ve been tight since we’ve been here.”

On making an NFL roster again:
“It should be the biggest return in sports history. We’ve seen guys come back from ACLs, ankles, torn labrum, but not this. I just want people to know I’m unstoppable.”

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