"I had to prove them wrong"
2018 was an interesting year to give birth to a child with a limb difference. I am admittedly not a sports person, but over the past year I've found myself being pulled into sports story after sports story. Also I have boys, so I figure I need to get educated so they'll think I'm cool later.
It began with Jim Abbott, the MLB player in the late 80s/early 90s who, like #MightyWoody, was born without his right hand. He played for the New York Yankees and pitched a no-hitter in 1993. (And I literally had to look up what a no-hitter was when I was reading his autobiography, I say again, I am not a sports person.) I'll have more on Jim later this month. But I want to turn to one of the athletes that is now part of my daily existence and is hopefully changing things for this generation.
Until 2018, I honestly don't think I watched an entire NFL game ever. #MightyWoody and Shaquem Griffen changed all that for me. Shaquem played his first NFL season this past year with the Seattle Seahawks. His twin brother is on the same team. They have an amazing story that has made it into various realms of mainstream media, including a 60 Minutes special.
For me, it all started with one video. I'm sharing it here. You'll be able to learn a little bit about Shaquem directly from him. It's the video that has led me to the word UNDEFEATED. That word has perhaps taken over my life. It would definitely be my word of the year for 2018. And maybe for the next decade if not the rest of my life.
But there is something else in this video too that relates to the earlier conversation on comparisons. There's a point where he says "I had to prove them wrong." And then later, "I had to prove that I belong." I love everything about this video, except those two statements. Now, I believe those two statements are true. For my son, I just wish that they weren't. And that is where I have to ask more questions.
Why is it Shaquem's job to prove something? Why isn't it our job to accept him? To accept his difference by not treating him differently? If someone makes, let's say, a series of choices that have negative consequences and then has to earn their way back into a specific environment, then that person may have something to prove. But fundamentally people don't need to prove worth as a means of existence. Especially children.
What I love about Shaquem is that he just repeatedly blows us all away with his strength and perseverance, and it literally has nothing to do with his hand.
(Google Shaquem Griffin 40 yard dash)
Now don't get me wrong. I LOVE this video. I cry when I watch it. I love all of those kids. I can't wait to show Woody when he is older. It inspires me. Makes me feel like I am getting a hug. All the things. But...I just can't shake feeling that if we don't examine and unpack the responsibility that we may intentionally or unintentionally lob onto ourselves or our children, we might miss a huge opportunity for growth.
I get that with the NFL and any sport that there is by necessity competition. And this is where the later quote comes in - I had to prove that I belong. We all have to do that. And I just wonder if there will ever come a time when we don't? (maybe when social media is over...) And, how great is the danger in demanding of a child that they prove they belong?
The good news is that what I see with Shaquem is that competition has moved beyond proving something to someone else. His competition is just where it should be, with himself.
We all live with the dichotomy of wanting to belong/fit in and wanting to stand out. But we want to have the freedom to choose what makes us different and usually (hopefully) it isn't our appearance.
My prayer for my son is that he will find his way, like Shaquem, so that he too can say:
What made me different was