Shaquem Griffin is the American Dream personified.
The 23-year-old was born with amniotic band syndrome, as his mother’s amniotic sac entangled his wrist while developing in the womb. As a result, he was born with an underdeveloped hand, which his parents officially had amputated when Griffin was just 4 years old due to the excruciating pain.
Growing up with one hand may have been a hindrance for many, but the Griffin family isn’t one for excuses. His father, Terry Griffin, constantly encouraged and trained Shaquem and twin brother, Shaquill, in preparation for the career path they both so desperately wanted. Today, the identical pair play for the Seattle Seahawks, with Shaquem in his rookie year after an incredible showing at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
Here, the Griffins chat with EBONY about their new partnership with Gillette, who’s short film chronicles the dedication, hard work and perseverance it takes to accomplish any dream under any circumstance.
How did you two come to partner with Gillette for this campaign?
Shaquem Griffin: We wanted to be part of a brand that showcases who we are, and I feel Gillette is a great brand to be with when it comes to sharing my story and show people exactly where we came from. You don’t want to be a part of something that’s not showing who you really are, and I think Gillette does an amazing job of showcasing that. It definitely shows that nothing comes easy, and that video still gives me chills when I watch it today. It really takes me back.
The short film is very powerful. What were some of your favorite moments while filming?
SG: One of my favorite parts is when we were out in the backyard working out. When I saw that part, it kind of made me get tired again [laughs]. I remember those days. Being in that backyard, trying to get that work in, there were days when you just didn’t want to do it. But, I think that was actually a highlight of my life because we were back there every single day.
Terry Griffin: Getting the chance to work with somebody else’s twins, oh man! My wife said I was having flashbacks [laughs]. I wish you could have seen those kids faces, they asked my boys, ‘so, you guys really did all this?’ We all said, ‘yeah!'” It was great.
Shaquem, What was the harshest criticism you received as an aspiring athlete with one hand? You clearly never lost your motivation, but what were some of the more biting things haters used to tell you?
SG: Mainly, they just tried to tell me what I couldn’t do. When they ask you, ‘what do you want to be,’ and I said a football player, people always said to be more realistic. As far as I’m concerned, I was being realistic! I’m going to be in the NFL, that’s going to be my profession. I was constantly told it’s not possible, that I needed to give up this football dream. People told me I might be able to get by playing high school football, but not college. I just had to take it upon myself to show people what I could really do.
Terry, What would you say is the most important thing a parent can do to keep their children’s dreams alive and keep their mental state positive?
TG: Push. Constantly push, and be right there with them. What you see now is a lot of parents trying to be friends and not parents. It’s about bringing up your kids right and going back to the old beliefs, you know? Respect your elders. When you see your neighbor getting groceries out of the car, you stop what you’re doing and go help. That’s the way I was raised, so I tried to instill that in them.
Shaquem, you recently played your first official NFL game, becoming the first player to compete on this level with one hand. Can you walk us through the emotions of getting in the game for the first time as a pro?
SG: Anxiety. A lot of anxiety. There was a lot going through my head that game, but I’ve been able to kind of calm myself down since then. Our first run had me feeling like I literally couldn’t breathe because I was so anxious. But to have the opportunity to be out there after being through everything I have, it was crazy. My heart was filled with so much emotion. Even while I was walking out on the field, I was getting goosebumps. Now that my body is becoming more accustomed to these new surroundings, it’s getting better, but even people who’ve been playing for years still get the butterflies in their stomach.
Terry, how was it for you watching Shaquem play his first game, and then seeing both of your sons on the field together on the same team?
TG: Honestly, it really hasn’t hit us yet. I found myself about a month ago asking my wife that same question, like, ‘how are we supposed to feel about all of this?’ I don’t know if we’re supposed to be jumping off the wall or break dancing, I don’t know, it just hasn’t hit yet. When it hits, we’ll let you know [laughs]!
Fair enough! Shaquem, what would you say is the best piece of advice you’ve received from any of your peers so far?
SG: K.J. [Wright] and Bobby [Wagner] do a really good job of encouraging me and staying on top of me, making sure I come in early, that I watch all the films and study the plays. Sometimes, we’ll study practice tapes together and KJ will pull me to the side and say, ‘ok, so what would you do in this scenario? How do you fill in this gap?’ It’s not a single piece of advice, but they’re helping me get acclimated to the process. Even when it comes to wins and losses, they do a good job of trying to teach me how to take all of it. You can’t think about losses for too long, you have 24 hours to think about it, live with it, and then forget it because we’re always on to the next game. When you learn from guys like that, it improves your game.
You were also featured in the new Nike campaign narrated by Colin Kaepernick. They highlighted Serena, LeBron, yourself and others. How did you become involved?
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 5, 2018
SG: They reached out and arranged everything. I actually didn’t know who would all be involved, they just told me what my part of the campaign would be. If Nike calls you and asks you to be a part of something, you’re not going to say “no” to it. Nike did an amazing job, and I’m happy I was able to be a part of that moment. Trust, I was happy to get that phone call [laughs].
Speaking of Kaepernick, do the Seahawks encourage players to use that platform to share and express their beliefs outside of sports or to bring awareness to social causes?
SG: I’ve never heard them discourage anyone, but I’m also a rookie. I don’t think I have a big enough voice yet. Even at practice, if I want to talk trash, Bobby and K.J. tell me to be quiet and they’ll handle the trash talking for me [laughs]. I still have to put some work in to build my platform to a point where I can do more, but right now I’m just focused on being a good teammate and a great player.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.