Plan A by Shaquem Griffin

So, I’m at a brunch at this fancy hotel in Los Angeles during Super Bowl week having a conversation with Roger Goodell, and that’s where I have to stop the story before I even get into it and say … that’s a sentence I never thought I would write.

Me, Shaquem Griffin, one-on-one with the commissioner?

Super Bowl?

Fancy hotel?

Brunch?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know my story. The one-handed linebacker with the twin brother.

Shaquem Griffin

What’s even crazier is the caliber of people in the room with him. It was filled with all-time greats and Hall of Famers.

And all I’m doing is looking around, thinking, How did I get here?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know my story. The one-handed linebacker with the twin brother. The guy a lot of people thought couldn’t play in college and said he would never make it to the NFL because nobody with only one hand had ever done that before.

Jackson Krule/The Players’ Tribune

I made it anyway.

I persevered.

But allow me to pick up my story where a lot of you probably left off — tell you what the last couple of years have been like, and where my journey will lead me next.

Let me take you back to September 2020. Me and my brother were still up in Seattle. We had a couple days off from camp and a friend of ours invited us out to his girlfriend’s lake house to do some paddleboarding and just relax. I’m sitting in the kitchen looking out at the lake — all the pine trees, just beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery — when I check my phone and see the news come across social media.

I’m getting cut by the Seahawks.

The news had leaked early, and at first I couldn’t believe it. I remember showing it to my brother and saying, “Yo, is this real? This ain’t real….”

I didn’t want people thinking, Aw, the one-handed player got cut.

Shaquem Griffin

My brother and me — we’ve been through it, man. I’ve always been able to rely on him. He was supposed to be back at the facility the next day for practice, and I remember he said, “I’m not going. I’m staying here with you and we’re gonna figure this out.”

I was able to be vulnerable with him about my mindset — and honestly, my fear. Now that I look back on it, I can see that the reason I was upset wasn’t that I’d gotten cut, or because the news had leaked early, or the uncertainty. I’ve dealt with adversity my whole life. I could handle this.

I was more worried about how other people would perceive me. I didn’t want people thinking, Aw, the one-handed player got cut.

I don’t do sympathy, man. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me.

But at no point did I ever think that that was it for me in the NFL.

There’s this thing we used to always say in Seattle: “Be where your feet are.” It basically means to stay in the present and control what you can control. And after talking with my brother, I realized that it doesn’t matter what people think about me at all. The only thing that matters is how I respond to yet another obstacle and what I choose to do.

I chose to work.

I went down to the practice squad, worked my way back to the active roster, and went back and forth between the two for a while. Then, after the 2020 season, my brother signed with the Jaguars, and I joined the Dolphins down in Miami. Being from St. Petersburg, I was happy to be back in Florida. But in Miami, everything felt different. I was still the same player — energetic, happy, always working. But something was missing.

And looking back on it now, I think that what was missing was my brother.

The Dolphins cut me before the 2021 season. I worked out for the Cardinals, the Titans and the Jets, and then I got calls from Buffalo, Dallas and Atlanta. But after that Jets workout, I realized something. All this traveling around, working out for teams, trying to catch on somewhere, trying to hang on — it wasn’t what I wanted. Football had already given me so much, and the only thing I still really wanted from the game was to play with my brother again.

So I told my agent, Buddy Baker, thank you for grinding and bringing me these opportunities. But unless it’s Jacksonville, I’m good.

I know a lot of people might not understand that approach. There are so many guys out there working hard, just hoping for an opportunity, any opportunity, and here I am limiting them. Believe me, I get it. But you have to understand something about me.

Football was always Plan B.

Jackson Krule/The Players’ Tribune

My father used to tell me and my brother that. As kids we had dreamed of playing together in the NFL, but whenever we talked about it, our father would remind us that if we made it to the league — especially if we got to play together — that would be an added blessing. A bonus. Plan A was to go to college, get an education and do something that would make a positive impact in the world.

Growing up, all through college and ever since I’ve been in the league, people have always told me how inspirational I was — just my story of persistence and achieving something I’d set out to do, even when people told me I couldn’t don’t do it. So, I decided early on that I wanted to go somewhere with that. I like helping people, and I’ve been blessed to have Shaquill and my family, who have always had my back, and coaches and mentors who I could lean on when I needed to. I know not everyone has that.

I figured if I could be that person for other people, that’s how I could make a real positive impact.

Seattle was the perfect place for me to learn how to do that. I spent a lot of time with KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner and so many other guys just talking about how to go about reaching people — how to really make a connection and be purposeful in my messaging. Bobby’s thing is financial literacy. Because of how he grew up and seeing the lack of knowledge people had, he’s constantly learning about personal finance and entrepreneurship and passing on his knowledge to young people. He does this because that’s his story. He’s not just sharing what he knows, he’s sharing a piece of himself. And going to a lot of his events in Seattle and seeing how he goes about reaching others, I could really see myself doing the same thing.

That brings me back to the fancy hotel and that brunch with Commissioner Goodell.

He had invited me there because he wanted to talk to me about joining the NFL Legends Community.

The NFL Legends Community is a program through which retired players help mentor current and former players on everything from the transition into and out of the game to how to navigate mental health issues. It’s a resource to provide guidance and support to players in whatever they might be going through or trying to achieve, including assisting with community service initiatives.

I’m sitting at that fancy hotel having brunch with the commissioner and he’s telling me he’d love to have me as part of the Legends Program. I look around the room and see all these vets — these old-school Legends who’ve been around forever — and I’m thinking, Man, I’m 27. I’d be the youngest Legend in the room.

And then the moment I knew that I had to say yes was when I was sitting with the commissioner and a few other guys, and we were just talking about football, rule changes — normal stuff. Then, the conversation shifted. We started talking about what’s happening on the streets in Chicago and how those communities are suffering. Guys started throwing out ideas on how we could help. How we could maybe improve people’s lives and make a real positive impact.

And I was thinking, These are the kinds of conversations I want to be a part of.

I had kind of already made up my mind before that, but that experience and that invitation from the commissioner locked me in and led me to the decision I had to make.

The time has come for me to retire from professional football.

It’s time for me to execute my Plan A.

Jackson Krule/The Players’ Tribune

Honestly, it’s still a little surreal. After everything I’ve been through in my life — all the hard work, all the doubts — it’s almost unthinkable that I’m hanging it up and moving on from the game of football.

But I know the positive effect I’m having on others. I’m speaking at colleges and universities, talking to football teams and even presenting to corporate America about never doubting yourself and tirelessly pursuing your dreams. People at companies want to hear what I have to say when actually I’m the one that can learn so much from them. It’s crazy.

But I can’t look back on my life and career without acknowledging the people who helped me achieve my dream.

My parents and my family for always believing in me and keeping things in perspective. For allowing me to be vulnerable and giving me the courage to believe in myself.

All the coaches I’ve had in my life who never let me give up.

Coach Frost for finally giving me a chance at UCF. The Seahawks for taking a chance on me.

Coach Carroll and the entire staff for being great coaches and even better me (and for not fining Shaquill when he skipped practice to stay with me at the lake house — that speaks volumes).

Bobby, KJ and all the teammates who have believed in me and mentored me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for you all.

And more than anybody, my brother, Shaquill.

You’ve had my back since Day One, bro. You never let anybody mess with me when we were kids. At UCF, when they invited you to stay and work out and sent me home for the summer and I was working two jobs towing cars and cleaning offices at the Chevy dealership, you called me every day to make sure I was still working out and keeping my mind right. When I got cut, you stayed with me. Because I needed you. We’ve always said, “We live through each other.” That won’t change. I’m still with you, living through you every time you take the field.

So keep ballin’ out. Keep living that dream. We’ve been told countless times, and it’s still humbling every time I hear it, that there should be a movie about our journey together, and what we’ve been through, together, always inseparable. Maybe that day will come sooner than later. But until then, I’m gonna go build something new so I can do what Dad always told us to do: leave the world a better place than when we found it.

On to Plan A.

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