Line­backer Grif­fin keeps telling his story so sim­i­lar kids can tell theirs

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY MIKE VOREL

SEAT­TLE

This is not an­other Shaquem Grif­fin story.

By now, you’ve prob­a­bly heard how that one goes. Grif­fin — a 6-foot, 227pound rookie line­backer for the Seat­tle Sea­hawks — was born with am­ni­otic band syn­drome, a con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der that dis­rupted the de­vel­op­ment of the fin­gers on his left hand. Ev­ery time the hand banged on his bed frame or brushed against his twin brother, streaks of pain burned through his body. When he was 4 years old, the hand was am­pu­tated.

He played foot­ball and base­ball and ran track any­way. He earned a schol­ar­ship to the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Flor­ida any­way. He was named 2016 Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence De­fen­sive Player of the Year any­way. He was drafted by the Sea­hawks in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft any­way. He re­united with his brother — sec­ondyear corner­back Shaquill Grif­fin — on Seat­tle’s ac­tive ros­ter any­way.

He told his story any­way, and in do­ing so, Shaquem be­came much more than an anony­mous fifthround pick. He be­came a sym­bol for count­less kids sub­jected to sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. He be­came a run­ning, tack­ling, pass­rush­ing per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of per­se­ver­ance. He be­came the un­likely cen­ter­piece of Nike and Gil­lette’s na­tion­wide com­mer­cial cam­paigns. He be­came an ex­am­ple.

And, no, that’s not too much for a 23-year-old rookie in Ren­ton to bear.

“I never felt that way,” Shaquem said this month of the pres­sure as­so­ci­ated with his spot­light. “I do what I do. I live my life the way I’ve been liv­ing it. I haven’t changed any­thing.

“A lot of peo­ple say, ‘Do you feel a lot of pres­sure?’ There’s not that much pres­sure, to be hon­est.

You meet kids. You talk to peo­ple and tell your story. If you’re a per­son who likes help­ing peo­ple, you’ll never be over­whelmed with all these peo­ple you want to help. I don’t feel like I’m over­whelmed from meet­ing peo­ple and telling my story over and over again.

“I’m not over­whelmed be­cause that’s some­thing I want to do. That’s some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to do. If that’s my way of giv­ing back — if that’s my way of help­ing oth­ers — then that’s what I’ll do.”

So Shaquem will keep do­ing what he does — run­ning, tack­ling, smil­ing, serv­ing.

He’ll keep telling his story, so kids like these can tell theirs.

BLAKE VE­NIER, 3 YEARS OLD

Blake knows he’s dif­fer­ent.

The 3-year-old from Gi­bral­tar, Mich., with the dark blond hair and rosy cheeks — who was born with­out a left hand — will oc­ca­sion­ally ap­proach his mother or grand­mother and give voice to an ob­ser­va­tion.

“You have two hands. I have one.”

Blake as­sem­bles Hot Wheels tracks any­way. He eats and dresses him­self any­way. He holds onto a minia­ture foot­ball any­way.

“He can do any­thing.

It’s amaz­ing,” said Deb­o­rah Hol­land, Blake’s grand­mother. “You just sit back and watch.”

Blake, too, has been watch­ing. Ev­ery time Shaquem’s Gil­lette com­mer­cial comes on tele­vi­sion, the 3-year-old boy points to the screen and says, “I want to play foot­ball with him.”

On Oct. 28, Blake didn’t play foot­ball with Shaquem.

But the al­ter­na­tive was enough.

When Hol­land — a Detroit Lions sea­son tick­etholder — saw the 2018 sched­ule, she in­stantly de­cided to take her grand­son to see the Sea­hawks. She sent an email to Seat­tle’s pub­lic-re­la­tions staff, which ac­com­mo­dated Blake with pregame passes on the Sea­hawks side­line. While the team was stretch­ing on the field, as­sis­tant strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Mon­dray Gee walked over, scooped Blake up and made an im­promptu in­tro­duc­tion.

Shaquem and Blake bumped fists — Shaquem’s right hand, and Blake’s right hand.

“See­ing that lit­tle kid in Detroit was amaz­ing,” Shaquem said be­fore a re­cent Sea­hawks prac­tice, with a pink hand-made poster that reads “Shaquem Your Amaz­ing!” dis­played in the back of his locker. “I meet so many peo­ple and it’s al­ways a dif­fer­ent story. It’s al­ways some­one who’s try­ing to over­come some­thing and liv­ing out their dreams.”

“(Blake’s) face when Mon­dray brought him back … he was just smiles from ear to ear,” Hol­land said. “It was so cute.”

Amer­ica agreed. Dur­ing the Sea­hawks’ 28-14 vic­tory over the Lions, Fox broad­cast Blake lift­ing his hand and waving at Shaquem. He also wore a Shaquem Grif­fin jer­sey, which the fam­ily had cus­tom-made be­fore his of­fi­cial jer­sey be­came avail­able.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the video went vi­ral. Blake was an in­stant, un­in­tended so­cial me­dia celebrity.

“We were just at the game and all of a sud­den our phones were blow­ing up,” Hol­land said. “’We just saw you on TV.’ ‘Blake’s on TV.’ I’m like, ‘What are you guys talk­ing about?’”

In the weeks since, Blake has been writ­ten about mul­ti­ple times. He’s been on tele­vi­sion (just like Shaquem). He’s run around the house, hold­ing that lit­tle foot­ball, yelling, “Go Sea­hawks! Go Sea­hawks!” He’s worn out that No. 49 jer­sey.

He’s dealt with ad­ver­sity, too.

“There was a time at the park where some kids made a com­ment to him and he did kind of hide (the nub) be­hind his back,” Hol­land said.

“They were play­ing a game — ‘Keep away from the mon­ster,’ the boy with no hand.

“He got sad. But he bounced right back.”

DANIEL CAR­RILLO, 11

Daniel couldn’t help but cry.

In Septem­ber, the 11year-old from Red Bluff, Calif. — who was born with­out a right hand, also the re­sult of am­ni­otic band syn­drome — opened the lime green gift bag and pulled out a Shaquem Grif­fin jer­sey. He held the jer­sey against his face, the blue fab­ric con­ceal­ing what was clearly a wide smile.

He cried. And his mother hugged him, and he cried harder. He cried and he smiled, and he wiped his eyes with his nub.

Then he said, “Thank you,” through the tears, and he put the jer­sey on.

But it wasn’t the first time he’s worn a foot­ball jer­sey.

“He has been ask­ing me for years to play foot­ball, and about three years ago I fi­nally gave in,” said Daniel’s mother, Maylissa Car­rillo. “He only wants to play foot­ball, and now he has this vi­sion of what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

“It’s con­tin­u­ous foot­ball. He wants to be a Ju­nior Spar­tan, which is where he is now, and be a Spar­tan in high school. Then he wants to go to Michi­gan State and be a Spar­tan. Then he would like to go to the NFL, and then coach.”

But first, the 11-year-old Spar­tan will travel to Seat­tle on the week­end of Dec. 2, to watch his fa­vorite team (the 49ers) meet his fa­vorite player (Shaquem).

Oh, and he doesn’t know this, but Daniel will meet him, too.

“He just knows that we’re go­ing and we’re go­ing to watch the game,” said Car­rillo, who promised not to show Daniel this ar­ti­cle and thus spoil the sur­prise. “He doesn’t know that we’re go­ing to be meet­ing him on Satur­day or that we have passes to go on the field. He doesn’t know any of it.”

BET­TINA HANSEN Seat­tle Times

Sea­hawks line­backer Shaquem Grif­fin meets with a group of kids from NubA­bil­ity, a non-profit for kids with limb loss to get into main­stream sports, af­ter a game against the Oak­land Raiders on Aug. 30 at Cen­tu­ryLink Field in Seat­tle.

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