RCL Exclusive

One-Handed NFL Rookie Wants to Be More Than Just a Feel-Good Story

Shaquem Griffin and his twin brother Shaquill open up about their NFL experience with RealClearLife.

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NFL football players are tough.

NFL football players are strong.

And NFL football players have two hands—and they know how to use them.

At least that was the case until Shaquem Griffin, who is as tough and strong as they come, was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL draft this past April by the Seattle Seahawks.

Drafted out of the University of Central Florida as a linebacker at No. 141 overall, Griffin had everything below his left wrist amputated at age four because of a debilitating condition in his fingers that caused him extreme pain.

Considered a longshot to make the NFL, Griffin put himself on the map and likely improved his draft stock by penning an open letter to NFL GMs which ran on The Players’ Tribune the month before the draft.

Seattle Seahawks LB Shaquem Griffin, who had his left hand amputated when he was four years old, playing in a 2018 pre-season game against the Indianapolis Colts. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

“That was a chance to put myself out there and be a little bit more open about who I am,” Griffin told RealClearLife. “I wanted the GMs to see that. I wanted them to get a feel for who I am. I’m not a guy who just wanted to be a feel-good story. I’m a guy who wanted to be part of the team and change the culture and be a guy who can contribute in any way possible, no matter what it is.”

Thanks in part to the letter, Griffin was picked by the Seahawks and reunited with his twin brother Shaquill, whom Seattle had drafted the year before to play cornerback.

“I’m in a great situation now because Pete Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff are trusting me, and Shaquill does too,” Griffin told RCL. “I’m honored and blessed to be part of an organization that believes in me.”

High school teammates, the Griffin brothers played together in college at UCF as well, after making a pact that neither would attend school without the other.

“We made it a package deal when we were 12 or 13 before we even thought about colleges,” Shaquill Griffin told RCL. “The main idea was we were going to stick together no matter what. When the offers started to come in our junior year, we continued to keep that pact. People would ask if I was willing to leave my brother behind and other questions like that. It was stuff that we didn’t want to hear. I stuck with the pact because I believed in sticking together with my brother. I wouldn’t change my decision. Everything happens for a reason and it turned out just fine.

Now, reunited in the NFL, the Griffin twins are once again on equal footing despite their differences.

Well, kind of.

Shaquem Griffin (left) and Shaquill Griffin attended the 2018 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/WireImage)

“They don’t treat us the same because I’m a rookie and he [Shaquill] is a veteran so he’s got more privileges than me,” Shaquem said. “I have to carry helmets and bring food and get told to not talk. Bobby Wagner tells me my brother is the better twin and I can’t say anything. I don’t get to talk trash back because I’m a rookie. Right now, it’s still all a blur. I didn’t know where I was going to be, so every day is new to me. ”

Being back together does have its advantages. “It’s cheaper,” Shaquill said. “But I feel like I’m still in the hole because he should have paid for a lot more just to catch up. I’ve been here for a year now so I’m a bit ahead in spending money. I’m ready to put my credit card away for a little bit.”

Though they may have slightly different team privileges in Seattle at the moment, that’s not the way the Griffin brothers grew up, which may be part of the reason they both got to where they are today.

“They always got the same treatment,” their father, Terry, told RCL. “[I] let them know hard work is gonna pay off. With boys, you have to constantly drill that into their heads because once they reach a certain age, they want to go the other way. They have to get an understanding that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

But the light at the end of that tunnel, especially because of the attention Shaquem has drawn because of what isn’t at the end of his left arm, has been bright.

Seattle Seahawks LB Shaquem Griffin (right) and his twin brother, CB Shaquill Griffin, head off the field after a pre-season game against the Indianapolis Colts on August 9, 2018. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

“I feel like everything is moving really fast lately with articles being written and my brother’s story being told,” Shaquill said. “The main thing we have been doing is staying professional. We aren’t letting it get too big for us or get ahead of ourselves. We understand the message we’re trying to give to people to motivate them. Our main focus is to continue to do that and tell Shaquem’s story.”

Shaquem has similar sentiments. “I’m just doing what I do—working hard, playing hard, being who I am—and everything else just comes with it,” he said. “When I talk to kids or anybody, I try to let them know that they can get themselves to the same place I am if they just put the work in. When I see kids training in videos and working hard, it motivates me too. I can be that guy that can be a motivator, but they can be motivation for me too. It kind of works both ways. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and know that no matter how many limits we have, we can do whatever we put our minds to.”

Shaquem Griffin (left) and brother Shaquill Griffin #26 of the Seattle Seahawks head off the field after a pre-season game against the Indianapolis Colts on August 9, 2018. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

So far Shaquem has been called on to do a little bit of everything for the Seahawks as he started the team’s first game before moving to mainly a special teams role starting in Week 2.

Despite the transition, Shaquem is staying ready for when his number is called. “I’ve been trying to learn what I can from the vets and just be available,” he said. “My brother, Bobby Wagner, K.J. [Wright] and the rest of them all say the best ability is availability. I think that’s important. I have to treat my body right and make sure it’s in top shape and I’m ready to step up. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I get and be able to make plays and make a difference. Special teams is just as important as offense or defense.”

As is learning to stay balanced

“You’ve got so much on the field and so much off of it. You’ve got to know how to turn it on and off,” Shaquem said. “When I’m off the field, I want to be able to interact with fans and reach out to people. I’m always open to talking to people and sharing my message with anyone who wants it or needs it. On the field, you have to be dialed in as soon as you are at the facility. You need to forget about what’s happening on the outside and what’s being said and focus on the team and what you can do to better it. It’s all about knowing when to turn it on and turn it off.”

Here’s a spot from Gillette where Shaquem, Shaquill, and Terry all share a little bit more about No. 49’s remarkable story.