FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Doctors told Adrian Clayborn not to play football.
His mother decided it was safer than letting him hang out on the streets.
The free agent defensive end, who signed with the defending AFC champion New England Patriots last week, developed a condition called Erb’s palsy when the nerves in his neck were stretched during childbirth. The damage affects the right side of his body — his neck, his bicep and his trapezius muscle — and forces him to work out differently, but doesn’t change his play, he said.
“I’ve learned to compensate when I have to,” Clayborn said in a conference call on Wednesday. “And I do what I’ve got to do to make the plays.”
Clayborn, 29, wrote on The Players’ Tribune that because of the condition doctors told his mother not to let him play football. But she relented after his older brother was shot and killed.
He also spent most of two seasons on injured reserve, with a popped bicep in the NFC championship game after the 2016 season that had him contemplating retirement.
Instead, he pushed forward.
“Life happens,” Clayborn told reporters. “I mean, through the Erb’s Palsy or losing my dad and my brother — it just made me the person I am today. Just got to take the blows when they come and throw a couple back at times. So, just learn how to fight and scrap and learn how to keep going.”
A seven-year veteran who played the past three seasons with Atlanta, Clayborn is coming off a career-high 9½ sacks in 2017. Although he played mostly on third down and other pass-rushing situations with the Falcons, he said he could take on a bigger role if the Patriots ask him to.
“That’s what people have pigeonholed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be,” he said. “That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me.”
Although he was on the 2016 Falcons team, he was injured early in the conference title game and missed the Super Bowl, when New England rallied from a 25-point, second-half deficit.
“It was tough to watch, being hurt,” Clayborn said. “I don’t know if I could have made an impact. I would hope so. I mean, that’s my job to do every game, so I would hope I would have been able to make an impact in that game and possibly a different outcome.”