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