‘The face I can be’: How Seahawks LB Shaquem Griffin helps athletes receive adaptive equipment

The efforts Terry Griffin labored through to make sure his son, Shaquem, could train and play football have been well-documented. 

That's why Shaquem Griffin, the Seattle Seahawks linebacker who had his left hand amputated at age four, is passionate about his partnership with The Hartford as part of its Ability Equipped program.

Earlier this week, Griffin virtually surprised two athletes from his native Tampa — 11-year-old J.T. Gerstner and 33-year-old Samantha Lebron, both of whom have cerebral palsy — with equipment to help advance their athletic goals (Gerstner got a javelin and strengthening machine. Lebron received a custom-made Top End Preliminator Racing Chair for track and field pursuits). The Hartford also gifted the Friends of the County Parks & Recreation in Tampa with a $40,000 equipment grant to purchase adaptive sports equipment to support community needs and programming.

"This was the first time I was able to be a part of something like this," Griffin told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. "Growing up, I wish that we had something like this. I wish Hartford would have hit me up when I was a little kid," he joked. "Just seeing the smiles that they put on people’s faces, not only kids but men and women."

It also had Griffin wondering what it was like if his father had resources — financial, material — or a community to bounce ideas off of. As the face of the program, Griffin hopes to make sure all of those who could benefit are aware. 

"If my dad had the help of the Hartford right behind him, I could imagine where I’d be at," Griffin said. "I mean, pretty far (along)."

The 2018 fifth-round draft pick laughed once more, this time at the reality he’s constructed, which is that he’s a multi-year player in the NFL who has played many meaningful snaps. And perhaps this past season was the most rewarding for Griffin, who tallied his first professional sack, pass breakup and tackle-for-loss in 2020. 

Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin (49) defends against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at State Farm Stadium. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

All of that almost didn't happen, though. The Seahawks waived Griffin on Sept. 6, and the transaction shocked him.

"I had to take that into consideration and say, 'OK, now I'm at this phase in my life? Do I just give up? Do I fade away?'" he said. "Or, 'Do I get upset at people or coaches?' There's nothing I can do."

Seattle signed Griffin to the practice squad and the 25-year-old did what he does best: he fought.

"My whole thing," Griffin says now, "was that I was coming to work hungry, ready to go as hard as possible, ready to do anything (the coaches) wanted to do. That was my mindset.

“You have a chance to say, ‘I’m either going to do something or not. No one can force you to. No one’s going to hold anything against you.”

At the outset of the pandemic, Griffin and his twin brother and teammate Shaquill moved back to Florida, where their father became their trainer once again.

"I'm just putting it out there," Griffin said, "I did not like it. It was tough.

"The workouts were so hard. 'We don't work out this hard no more.' And then for him to be able to take us back to when we were kids, he was working us so hard."

They couldn’t fire him. He was working for free, like he was a decade ago, when Shaquem Griffin was a boy with an impossible dream he's not only realized, but has used to inspire others. 

"I was able to experience so many things, not only in football, but knowing I was setting an example for a lot of kids," Griffin said. "I didn’t really understand that during college or even my first year in the league.

"Actually, (the experience with Hartford), that's what really opened my eyes when it comes to the things that I can help with, when it comes to the face I can be for those who want to be something, for those who want to share their goals, for those who want to achieve all their goals, their dreams."  

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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