Shaquem Griffin: Will the One-Handed Hopeful Sink or Swim at the Pro Level

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It’s been asked.  Can Shaquem Griffin answer?

The NFL Combine is well underway, and the cream of the college crop are being put to the pro-level litmus test.  The annual Indianapolis-based skills showcase is the born-talent barometer that coaches and scouts use to gauge a players potential success he’ll find at the raised ante that is pro ball.  As the recruits grind for milliseconds on the 40 yard dash and power through the arm buckling bench press, heroes are made as swiftly as dreams are shattered.  Even with the headline talents of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Saquon Barkley, all eyes are shifting to the dark horse of the 2018 combine. Shaquem Griffin.

The 6’1”, 227lb line backer from the University of Central Florida is showcasing his prowess in spades, as “Shaq” campaigns to amend the Laws of Physics for a man of his dense dimensions and discernible stature.  His 4.38 on the dash and 20 rep press are salivating metrics for a scout and his game IQ and work ethic are also apparent and appreciated. But, even though Shaquem has a figurative leg up on most recruits within the LB position, if drafted, he’ll play with a literal hand down from the rest of the league.

“Amniotic Band Syndrome occurs when the unborn baby (fetus) becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development.”

At the age of 4, Shaquem was forced to amputate his left hand; a measure taken to cease the severe pain caused by a rare disease called Amniotic Band Syndrome.  Doctors took the appendage just below the wrist and while the tourniquet was applied, the South Florida native was unwavering as he has football in his blood. Shaq fought tooth and nail to never let his disability sideline him from the game he loved, and proved on all levels that the game may actually only take one hand to play.  After a stellar senior year – 44 solo tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles, all on the curtails of his 2016 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year – Shaquem Griffin was shaking the naysayers who rightly assumed he had no place on the football field.  His combine numbers and highlight reel tell a different story though, and he’s become the poster child of the 2018 draft class, proving that even the most austere adversity can be surmounted.  As the gauntlet nears end, the front offices across the NFL are going to hit the war room and ask the divisive question…are we actually going to draft him?

Established players and coaches alike are publicizing that the answer will be yes.  His dash time makes him the only player defensive player above 225lbs to finish under 4.40 in a decade, while his avant garde 20 rep press elucidated that his strength shouldn’t be questioned either.  He has converted the nation to his disciples, where he no longer needs to beg to be judged in against his context – Vikings GM Rick Spielman is on record opining that “I don’t think [his having one hand] should be a factor, just because he’s shown he can be productive at a high level against some high-level competition. I think each team will make that determination, but we think he’s a heck of a football player, and that won’t be a factor for us.”  Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks has similar sentiments.  Analysts are wagering Shaquem will be drafted, and potentially in the first 6 rounds, but there is a looming shadow behind the man flying almost too closely to the sun.  At the professional sporting level, players are scrutinized for their abilities while no weight or leeway is placed on a mans disability…even the best horses are sent to the glue factory when knees begin to wane.  Under the indiscriminate nature of athletics, Shaq won’t ever get the benefit of the doubt from a coach who knows that if he had his left hand, he would have hauled in that interception (nor does he want that partisanship).  So, the question must be asked.  If a ball is played to Shaquems maned left too many times, will his disability eventually bar him from occupying a spot on an NFL roster?

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Unfortunately, that answer might also be yes.  Pro sports are a business before they are entertainment.  While a team may find a spike in the ratings from audiences thirsting to watch the one-handed Golden Knight rush from the edge, winning is still priority #1, and measures are taken to remove any iota of weakness.  With that, his disability is impossible to completely negate and there will absolutely be instances where it will be the catalyst of misplay.  Yes, Shaquem has proven that he operates at the elite level, but the level he is competing to play at has no bias nor room for error.

They say you’re only as good as your last – a quip that embodies the short term memory people have for past performance when the current is subpar.  It’s fact that Shaquem can and will have an impact at the NFL level, but it’s likely that the plays he falters on, the ones that remind us of the Amniotic Band Syndrome, will stick with a coach more than the 100 show-stopping tackles he delivered on prior.  It’s sad, but it’s true.  At the highest levels of competition, business and athletics alike, errors are magnified more so than achievement.  Shaquem doesn’t want to be the benefactor of a different ranking system and he won’t be.

It’s an inevitable circumstance.  Catchable balls and makable tackles will seep through Shaqs unavoidable cracks.  The team that takes Shaquem Griffin knows well and good that they, like he, will have to adapt and find a permissible mechanism to extrapolate his potential.  Griffin is confident though, telling reporters that “there’s going to be a lot more doubters saying what I can’t do, and I’m ready to prove them wrong.”  He’s done that since age four, and will continue to do so.  The world is rooting for him though; the underdog story of a disabled man proving able is commendable and on any metric, he deserves his chance.   We also know the lack of his left hand will cause hiccups in any system/position he’s asked to play in, and that one chance may be all he gets.  Regardless, Shaquem Griffin is an inspiration to us all, as most would surrender under the conditions he was forced to play with.  That’s what makes Shaq, Shaq.  It’s what has always made him the hardest worker in the room…he has a considerable amount more to prove than the average.  On the chance that Shaquems disability does get the better of him at the upper echelon of pig skin, he’ll go down as a martyr for his ability to find a means to an end.  What Shaquem lacks in hands, he makes up for in heart.  The combine calls that an intangible, and if you check the clipboard…that counts!

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