Shaquem Griffin was born on July 20, 1995, less than two minutes after his twin brother Shaquill Griffin. The two boys were natural athletes, instinctual competitors, and eager acolytes of their father, Terry Griffin, who taught them to dream big then taught them to work big as well. Their athletic careers started early and auspiciously, but only after Shaquem’s hand, tied by amniotic band syndrome, was amputated at age four. Did Terry suggest that Shaquem couldn’t dream of an NFL future like his brother? Never. And that’s no small part of why both boys became big, fast, absurdly talented men and why both now play cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks.
Shaquem has gotten a lot of (well deserved) publicity this year. Gillette is telling his story. Fatherly is telling his story. And no wonder: His story is so different from the major narratives — racism, brain damage — orbiting professional football. It’s the story of a nice kid overcoming long odds to chase a dream. And it’s easy to understand Shaquem Griffin in those terms. Maybe that’s okay, but it also undersells Griffin as a man and assumes that the story is over.
That’s not how Shaquem thinks and that’s certainly not how Terry thinks. Fatherly spoke to the two men about their relationships, their family, and their ambitions.
To start, I’d love to get a sense of how the two of you spoke about both Shaquem’s disability and his remarkable abilities when he was a kid.
Terry: We never used the word ‘disability.’ I believe if you give a kid an excuse he’ll use it on you. I told Shaquem to work hard. If you want something in life, you have to work hard for it. Shaquem and Shaquill understand that you have to grind for what you want.
Shaq: When it comes down to me having to do extra work, my dad put a lot on both of us. He asked what my brother and I were gonna do to separate ourselves from others. That meant we were working after practice or doing push-ups before we went to bed. We were jumping on the vertimax and doing ladder drills. We were constantly doing something that someone else wouldn’t do.
More focus on the family team then, less focus on the specific hurdle Shaquem had to clear. Was that the basic philosophy? The Griffin family is going to win?
Terry: A little secret of mine: If my kid is home doing pushups and your kid is not? If my kid is jogging around the block and your kids is not? My kid is gonna be faster and stronger than your kid. While your son is at home playing video games, my sons are running up a hill.
Guys used to be faster than them growing up, I’d say, ‘That’s the rabbit. We’re gonna chase the rabbit.’ All the guys who could beat them they could beat them at 200 pounds.
That sounds like a recipe for success, but that also sounds like it would be tough on a kid and probably lead to some confrontations as the kid got older. Shaquem, did you ever rebel?
Shaquem: Oh man … shoot. I rebelled a lot. I would say I’m not doing this today. We’d have to do push-ups at night before bed and every week we’re going up 25 after starting at 100. You get to 350 push-ups pretty quickly and he would sit there and count the push-ups. We’d go to bed pretty swollen up. I was flexing when I was sleeping.
[Terry and Shaquem laugh.]
I wouldn’t say conflict, but I would try to wrestle my dad sometimes and lose. Dad would put us in pretzels. That made us work even harder.
Well, whatever the two of you did worked on some level. You’re an NFL player. Your brother is an NFL player. What is your father’s role, if any, at this point? Is he still making sure you do pushups or are the Seahawks trainers on the case?
Shaquem: At this point, he mostly makes sure I keep a positive mindset. Obviously, not every day is gonna be a perfect day so I reach out to him and he helps me get to the place I need to be. Sometimes it can get a bit foggy, you’re going through tough days and things can be confusing. My dad clears up that fog and motivates me.
Terry, how do you do that?
Terry: I let them know it’s a job. It’s about work ethic. You show people that you can work. My sons know what they can do, they’ve been doing it for so long. The hard work is what matters because it’s a job. None of it’s personal. It’s a job.
And, Shaquem, you hear that message loud and clear? Does that help you focus?
Shaquem: Yeah. You can’t be a hall of famer in a year. You gotta build and hustle and figure out who you are. I’m in a learning phase. I listen to my dad and to guys like Bobby Wagner and even Earl Thomas. I look up to him.
I also know that the best ability is availability so I wake up early and make sure I’m stretched and make sure I’m there to get treatments after practice. I work hard.
Shaquem, you’re on billboards. Your story is inspirational to a lot of people. That’s great. But do you worry that this is today’s feel-good story and that people will just move on? Does it feel like the attention — this interview being an example — is likely to go away? Does that bother you or is it something you can compartmentalize?
Shaquem: I never say it’s a feel-good story. If other people think it’s a feel-good story, they can feel good about it. None of it changes how I go to practice or how hard I work. As long as I’m playing ball, it only matters that I’m a football player. I’m going to just keep pushing myself. I’m living out my dream.
And, for you Terry, what’s it like to see both of your boys out living out their dreams?
Terry: I’ve been proud from the day they were born. A couple of months ago, my wife and I talked about it. It hadn’t really dawned on us yet. How should we be acting? Should we be jumping for joy? We don’t know because we’ve been through this for their entire lives. From little league to now so we just get up go to work and do our regular things. It hasn’t really hit us yet. I’m guessing that maybe one day it’s just like, ‘Pow!’ We’re waiting for it.
Still, you have to be nervous on Sundays.
Terry: It’s a blessing to watch them. Your pray before every game and you pray after every game.