Physical challenges

It is a long wait for fans of America’s National Football League (NFL) between the end of one season, the Super Bowl in early February, and the start of the next season at the beginning of September. Their period of restlessness is highlighted with the NFL draft which takes place towards the end of April.

At the draft, which attracts a great deal of media hype and attention, the teams can select players who are leaving college, by way of graduation or early, by personal choice and at least three years removed from high school. Prior to the draft, the football analysts host mock drafts, fans hope that their teams can restock and improve their lineup with young and exciting players, and inordinate time slots are devoted to television and radio programmes for discussions, debates and reviews of potential draft choices.

The premier eligible players are invited to the week-long NFL Combine which takes place annually in February. There, the players are subjected to a battery of mental and physical tests in front of NFL coaches, general managers, personnel directors and scouts for their evaluation in a standardized setting. Notwithstanding their performances on the field the previous college season, players’ stock value – position selected in the draft and salary – can be influenced by their performances at the NFL Combine.

The tests are meant to assess the players’ speed, strength and size, and include the 40-yard dash, bench press (225 lb repetitions), broad jump, vertical jump, 20 yard shuttle, (player) position specific drills, physical measurements, interviews (teams are allowed 60 each), drug tests and injury evaluation. These series of tests have been questioned in some quarters as to how they relate to predicting the long term future of a potential draft choice’s career.

This year’s draft was held for the first time ever in a stadium, AT & T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys franchise and took place from last Friday to Sunday. The 32 NFL teams selection sequence is based on the reverse order of their final placings of the previous season, and hence the Super Bowl winner and runner-up enjoy the final and penultimate picks, respectively, in every round. As expected, the first three rounds attract the majority of attention when those considered to the best available, are selected.

On Saturday, with the third pick of the Fifth Round, the 141st overall, the Seattle Seahawks selected University of Central Florida (UCF) linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Last year, the Seahawks had selected his identical twin, Shaquill Griffin who plays the cornerback position. Shaquem, who was born with a birth defect, had his left hand amputated when he was four years old. His selection received the loudest cheers of the day, outstripping even those of the Cowboys.

Casual followers of the sport might have mistaken this as a publicity gimmick or as a favour by the Seahawks to their 2017 third round selection, Shaquill. No such thing here. Middle round selections like those in the fifth round are valuable commodities, and it is quite often in these latter rounds that important players are added to the roster of already very good teams, thus elevating them into the elite and contending class. Sleeper picks in the later rounds have included Tom Brady, the five time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, the seventh quarterback chosen with the 199th pick of the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

Shaquem Griffin is the real deal. He will make the Seahawks team at training camp and more than likely soon become a starter. He emulated Shaquill by sprinting the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine in 4.38. With the aid of a prosthetic, which he was fitted whilst at UCF, he bench pressed 225lb twenty times. So, how did Shaquem, with a major handicap, make it to the NFL in the rough and tumble world of American football?

Everything starts at home. Very early on his parents, Angie and Terry decided that he would be treated like the rest of his siblings, just another kid running around the house, and his lack of a left hand was not to be considered a challenge. When the twins started lifting weights to bulk up for football, it was Terry the innovator whose contraptions allowed him to do bench presses, curls and push ups, and work out with his teammates.

Perennial football powerhouses such as Ole Mississippi, Florida State and Miami expressed an interest in Shaquill, only to be informed that it was a package deal, and it was either both twins on a full scholarship or neither of them, following their pre-high school days decision to stick together, come what may. Central Florida, the school which accepted the proposal was the beneficiary of the brothers’ playmaking, going undefeated, 12–0, in Shaquem’s last year at the school.

Here in Guyana we have overlooked and neglected, in fact, more often than not, ostracised those amongst who have been born with, or through some unfortunate incident, suffer from a physical handicap. We all need to take a page from Angie and Terry Griffin’s book, and nurture and encourage those in our society who face these seemingly insurmountable challenges on a daily basis.

One area we can begin with is the building code. All new buildings constructed for public use should be made accessible for the physically challenged in our society, who should also be able to enjoy whatever facilities are offered by those institutions.

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