"Now that I've gotten a taste of the game being taken away from me, I'm even more hungry to play," Orr said on “Good Morning Football.” (Baltimore Sun video)

It's possible – and maybe even likely – that Zachary Orr can resume his NFL career and still lead a long and happy life, but it's not worth the risk to his long-term health and the Ravens would be wise to stay out of the picture.

From all indications, that's what they'll do in the wake of the surprising revelation Wednesday that Orr intends to continue playing pro football in spite of a spinal abnormality that makes him vulnerable to a catastrophic injury.


The congenital problem was discovered during an imaging test late last year and Orr announced a very premature retirement after only three seasons in the NFL. He acknowledged at the time that part of the reason he was ending his promising football career was that he would never be able to pass a team physical.

So, what has changed to the point where he was reportedly contacted by eight NFL franchises within 90 minutes of the story breaking on the NFL Network?

The answer is … not much. He hasn't been magically cured, but he did get some more medical opinions and found a spinal specialist who believes that the risk of paralysis – or worse – is not significant.

It will be interesting to see how many of those interested teams are willing to overlook the determination of the Ravens and the group of specialists who reached the original conclusion. Orr is a very talented player who is coming off a breakout season and he became an unrestricted free agent because he didn't officially retire and the Ravens didn't place him on the reserve/retired list or tender him a contract.

That was not an oversight on the part of the team. There was no reason for the Ravens to believe Orr would change his mind or that anything would happen to alter his diagnosis or prognosis. Their medical staff had spoken and nothing that happened Wednesday altered the facts surrounding the situation.

Maybe some other team is willing to join Orr in this dangerous gamble, but the Ravens could not do so and maintain the credibility of their doctors or the front office. We're way beyond the "tape it up and go" era in the NFL and the Ravens have been in the glare of enough unwanted national publicity over the past half-decade to knowingly risk a Darryl Stingley incident at M&T Bank Stadium.

There have been other instances where high-profile athletes have received dire warnings about the dangers of continuing to play, only to go doctor-shopping to get the medical opinion that would allow them to continue. Not all the outcomes have been tragic, but there isn't enough money or fame to make that a good bet.

Orr said during his NFL Network interview that he was sure he would never play again, but listened to "multiple people" who encouraged him to get more medical opinions. He also referenced a college player he says had the same condition and came back to play with no problems.

Faced with the reality of a lifelong dream denied, there's no limit to the ability of an athlete to convince himself (or herself) of his own invincibility. That's why Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers kept playing with a heart condition until he died on the court in 1990.

Orr called GM Ozzie Newsome ahead of his unretirement announcement to inform him of his decision and because he apparently felt the Ravens would be the best fit for the resumption of his career.

The tone of the terse statement Newsome released Wednesday -- "I spoke with Zach yesterday, and he informed me that he would like to continue to play football. He is a free agent." -- should tell you all you need to know about the Ravens' intentions. They know better than to put themselves in such a vulnerable position.

Everyone can understand Orr's desire to keep playing the sport he loves and attempting to cash in on his tremendous success last season. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, hopefully still stinging from the sport's concussion scandal, should make sure that doesn't happen.


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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