Today’s professional football world has never seen a player like Shaquem Griffin.
In 2016, he won the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year award, with 92 total tackles, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. (For you non-football folks, that’s really good.)
In March 2018, he clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time for a linebacker in the NFL Scouting Combine since 2003.
And in April 2018, he lived out every aspiring football player’s dream of playing in the NFL when he was drafted as a defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks.
The big kicker? He’s accomplished all of that one-handed. Literally.
Shaquem Griffin starred on the undefeated University of Central Florida football team last year. Photo via Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Griffin’s left hand was amputated when he was 4 years old.
He was born with a condition called amniotic band syndrome, a rare disorder that occurs in the womb, causing the amniotic sac to entangle with limbs. Before the amputation, the tissue in Griffin’s left finger was soft, “like a glove filled with jelly,” according to ESPN.
It was also painful. "Everything I touched burned," Griffin told the network.
His mother, Tangie, recalled her son attempting to cut off his fingers one night to relieve the pain. She called the next day to schedule the surgery.
Shaquem will join his twin brother, Shaquill, on the Seahawks roster. Shaquill, who is one minute older than Shaquem, was drafted last year by the Seattle team.
Missing a hand has definitely raised challenges in his life, but Griffin has never let it hold him back.
Shaquem Griffin had to work hard to get to where he is today — professional football requires intense dedication, and is definitely not for the faint of heart. His indomitable will is nothing short of infectious.
"Never let anyone tell you what you can't do," he told College Gameday in 2016. "If somebody says you can't walk, prove them wrong. Somebody tells you can't play football, prove them wrong."
Griffin's success in football offers representation to kids with disabilities.
Heroes that we feel a connection with are important. They inspire us, they give us something to shoot for, and they remind us that we are capable of great things.
Kids with disabilities don't often see themselves reflected in the highest ranks — especially in mainstream professional sports. To see a man with one hand playing on an NFL team opens up a world of possibilities for those who have been told, directly and indirectly, that they are not physically made for certain things.
Take, for example, this young cheerleader, who was born with the same condition as Shaquem Griffin and who is one of his biggest fans:
Griffin credits his family for helping him develop his strength and attitude. In an open letter to the general managers in the NFL, Griffin wrote about a coach from his childhood who told him he shouldn't play football. Griffin said it was his family who pushed him to never give up.
"I’m blessed to have thick skin. But I’m even more blessed to have a family that never let me make excuses and who raised me to never listen to anybody who told me I couldn’t do something — especially because of my hand."
Here's to Shaquem Griffen single-handedly changing the face of the NFL.