The Seahawks draft of Shaquem Griffin wasn’t exactly a shock, but it was exactly a thrill and an inspiration in times that are desperate for both.
Never in my time in Seattle sports has the arrival of a pro athlete evoked a response sufficient to make its own weather. That’s how I’m explaining the indoor rainfall on my face when I heard Shaquem Griffin was coming to playing football for the Seahawks.
I doubt I was the only one affected by a rain delay.
“My partner here,” said a grinning coach Pete Carroll Saturday afternoon, nodding toward GM John Schneider, “was kind of a mess, to tell you the truth, when he handed me the phone.”
Schneider had just finished selecting Griffin with Seattle’s first of four fifth-round picks and made the congratulatory call welcoming Shaquill Griffin’s one-minute younger twin brother. I’m guessing the call went something like this:
“Um, hey dude . . . you know . . . just calling to say . . . uh . . . damn. Here’s Pete.”
For as outlandishly overwrought as is the spectacle of the NFL draft, every once in awhile it resolves a chord so sublimely that it touches the soul. Even when the moment was not necessarily a surprise to those who follow the Seahawks and the draft and know the story of the one-handed football player, his hire to the sports pinnacle — in tandem with his twin — was a climactic moment that clutches the throat and restores the faith.
Griffin, Schneider said, was cool.
“He was totally fine,” Schneider said. “He had the situation in hand.”
— NFL (@NFL) April 28, 2018
Griffin has the advantage of living inside the saga for the past 18 years, ever since he tried self-amputation to relieve the pain in his undeveloped left hand caused by a rare defect from birth called amniotic band syndrome. It delivered constant, hot anguish to a little boy each time his soft fingers and hand touched something.
The subsequent story of a successful yet depressing surgical outcome, followed by years of adaptation and athletic success, was the talk of college football, the scouting combine and now the broader audience of the pro draft. Griffin so understands the significance of his feat and its meaning to others that he betrays no annoyance. He seems almost serene.
“Somebody told me that they had sat down with him for five minutes,” Schneider said, “and they gained the same inspiration from him as they did the first time he was able to sit with John Wooden.”
That is a sign of a strong man at peace with himself in the face of overwhelming attention.
“At first it was (hard), but when you do something so long, you start getting adjusted to it,” Griffin said Saturday from Dallas in a teleconference with reporters. “It is not as hard as you think.
“Just being in the act of being yourself at all times, that’s the best thing. I’m never going to change who I am. I’m not going to change the way I think or play football or anything else I do.”
Carroll admits to having been blown away in February when he met Griffin at the combine in Indianapolis.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a more inspirational interview than that one,” he said. “He was just so expressive and so open to tell his story, and to tell what this opportunity meant to him. He moved us all. He’s an extraordinary young man. He has a lot of messaging that he’s going to stand strong with, and we’re all going to grow from, I think.
“I think probably the coolest thing that happened at the combine is that he said to us in our meeting, ‘I’m going to run faster than my brother.’ When our handheld clocks came off, he beat his brother’s time. We went nuts about it, because he called it. So, it started the lore about this kid.”
Griffin made it plain that the lore is second to football.
“Everybody thinks it is a sentimental story, but Shaquem Griffin doesn’t think like that,” he said. “I’m a guy who is going to come in and work my butt off. I’m going to learn as fast as possible. I’m going to contribute the best way possible.
“If you want me to rush, I will rush. I will give everything I got.
“If you want me to cover, I will cover and I will give everything I got.
“I am a football player at the end of the day. People who feel sorry or have any pity on me, they are the ones that are going to have to get off or get back.”
For those of us who had occasion this weekend to look up from the draft, Griffin’s selection stood in ironic relief against another ghastly rhetorical dump from President Trump when he intersected with sports.
At a ceremony Friday at the White House celebrating the U.S. Winter Olympians and Paralympians after the Games in South Korea, Trump groped futilely in his usual word salad and came up with gravel.
“What happened with the Paralympics was so incredible and so inspiring to me,” Trump said. “And I watched — it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could.”
The hope is that the president can avert his eyes when the Seahawks are on TV this fall, where he would see another icky thing a little too tough to watch.
With a stump where his hand should be, Shaquem Griffin will be doing his professional sports job as well as Trump’s job — helping lift humanity.