Shaquem Griffin: Against All Odds

“Nothing comes easy, that’s what my dad always said to me and my brother…” Shaquem Griffin said in his 2019 acceptance speech at the NFL Honors. Griffin was awarded the 2019 NFL Game Changer award for a very unique reason. While his rookie season was a good one, and his on field production was solid, that was only part of the reason he received recognition. The Seattle Seahawks rookie linebacker was given such a prestigious honor because of his perseverance due to a rare disorder that he was born with, which led to  his left hand being amputated.

Shaquem, 23, was born with amniotic band syndrome, and due to complications, he was forced to have his hand amputated at only four-years-old. Shaquem learned to adapt and perform regular daily things despite having only one hand. He never made excuses , and his support system wouldn’t allow him to.

“Growing up as a child, being told what I couldn’t do, it can weigh heavy on your heart. But I had family, I had my brothers, I had those around me to keep my head straight, to keep my hopes high, and now I can say I’m blessed and I’m honored to be here in front of you.”

The inspiration that came from his short, but sincere speech stole the night. It was the talk of all sports media outlets the next day, and throughout the week. Griffin is such a humble young man, and his words come from a very special place from a very special person. “And the message I want to give today is for those of you who have dreams and aspirations to be great in life. Do not let negativity dictate who you’re going to become.”
Griffin’s words narrate his story, one that has inspired thousands, if not millions in recent years, college football fans across the country became aware of who he was when his twin brother, Shaquill, who was amongst the nations top recruits made headlines. Shaquill turned down scholarship offers from some of the nations top powerhouses in football because they didn’t offer Shaquem a scholarship as well. This decision stemmed from a promise Shaquill made to Shaquem at 13-years-old, he promised that they would go to school together.

So just five years later when the St. Petersburg, FL  twins wanted to stay close to home, the University of Miami only gave Shaquill a scholarship offer. . But there was an up and coming school that was building a great program fit for both Shaquem and Shaquill, the University of Central Florida. This allowed them to stay close to home and hold true to their pact.

In college, the twins didn’t play together until their second year of school. Shaquill played sparingly as a freshman, while Shaquem redshirted. A redshirt season is common among football players as freshmen. Most of them aren’t ready to compete physically, so it allows them to sit out a year while still being able to practice and learn the plays, and doesn’t count against the four years of their scholarship. Both of their respective decisions worked out in their best interest. Their third year at UCF, the Griffin twins played  started in all 11 games that season, and all 13 games the following season. Each year they both saw drastic improvements in their stats. After Shaquill’s last season in college, he was drafted with the 90th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to the Seattle Seahawks.

This was the first time that the twins hadn’t been on the same team and been this far from one another, literally being across the country from the person they’ve spent nearly every moment with since birth. But they managed to follow each other’s respective seasons closely. As luck would have it, both of them performed at a really high level for their respective teams. Shaquem’s name started to cause a stir due to his outstanding play on the college field. He started to open the eyes of NFL scouts and suddenly the dream of playing in the NFL was becoming more likely to become a reality. But what team would be willing to take a chance on a player with what seems to be a clear physical disadvantage? Only in a movie would the same team that drafted his twin brother one year prior, draft Shaquem as well.

And then…

The NFL Combine happened.

The NFL Combine is where the top couple of hundred potential draft picks showcase their athleticism. They test out their speed in the 40-yard dash, quickness and agility in 20-yard  cone drills, and their strength with the bench press of 225 lbs. Shaquem Griffin walked into last year’s combine as one of the most confident players there. After leading his team to an undefeated 13-0 season, he had every right to be that confident. Just before the start of the combine, reporter Daniel Jeremiah for NFL Network, asked Shaquem what did he think he’d run in the 40-yard dash? Griffin replied with a question of his own, “What do you think is fast?” Jeremiah said, “For a linebacker, 4.60.” Griffin replied confidently, “I didn’t say linebacker, I said what do you think is fast.”

Shaquem blew the minds, and warmed the hearts of everyone that watched the combine last year. And equally as important, he proved to everyone why he was so confident. Shaquem ran the 40 in a blazing 4.38 seconds, tying his brother’s time, despite being 30 pounds heavier. To put it into perspective just how fast that is, he ran faster than Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, Julio Jones and Dallas Cowboys running back, Ezekiel Elliott. This is also the fastest time for any linebacker in the history of the combine. In addition to his performance in the 40-yard dash, he bench pressed 225 lbs an incredible 20 times with a prosthetic hand to help him grip the bar.

Shaquem was trending on twitter immediately after that, and I remember that day reading all of the tweets and Facebook posts about what everyone had saw. It was one of sports best feel good stories in quite some time. And the story just kept getting better.

On April 28, 2018, the Seattle Seahawks selected Shaquem Griffin, the first one-handed player in NFL history, and it wasn’t a gimmick. Shaquem made an immediate impact in the community, he hosted dozens of children from across the Pacific Northwest vas part of NubAbility Athletics Foundation, a non-profit organization for different-limbed athletes like Shaquem. This experience came just moments after the team’s last preseason game. He spent time with the kids, and talking to their parents, further showing how humble of a person he is.

This past season Shaquem became one of Seattle’s key defensive special teams players this season, and even started a few games along with his brother Shaquill. This was the first time in nearly 100 years that two twin brothers have started for the same team.

Shaquem Griffin’s impact on the football field doesn’t begin to describe how impactful his presence is to so many kids across the world. There was a viral video posted of a kid who is also an amputee, received a Griffin jersey for a present. His reaction really puts things into perspective. As this year’s combine is now complete, it’s the perfect time to go back and appreciate the strength and perseverance of Shaquem. The story that made him a national hero to so many people, and an inspiration to others.

-Blake Holmes