#97: Raising Awareness and Ending Stigmas

  In recent years, the NFL has been plagued with a variety of scandals and controversy. There have been reports of teams cheating, referees being paid off, players accused of abuse, and, of course, the heated debate of players taking a knee. Lately, it seems the NFL is always under fire, but instead of focusing on that, I want to reflect on something I feel an NFL team did right.

            Many people know I have always been a ride or die Vikings fan, no matter what kind of season they have. I absolutely love Vikings season, often get a little too into the games, and find myself in a lot of overly excited discussions. No matter the outcome of a season, the Vikings have always been my number one team. For the most part, the Vikings have steered clear of scandal. With the exception of a few incidents, such as the Adrian Peterson scandal, the Vikings seem to avoid the drama spotlight. But in spite of recent events, I think they deserve it.

            I have been watching Everson Griffin’s impressive career as a defensive end for the Vikings since his rookie season. In that time, he’s made some questionable life choices, but he has still done amazing things for our team. This past week, it has reached the news that Griffin is being banned from playing for the foreseeable future, despite the Vikings rocky start to the season. The reasons surrounding this decision all stem from Griffin’s struggle with his mental health that have been prominent in his angry outbursts at practice, as well as incident that occurred last Saturday that ended with Griffin being taken by ambulance to a mental health facility, where he is hopefully receiving the help he obviously needs.

            While I love my Vikings, Griffin being a part of that team is not the reason I want to shed more light on this topic. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to not only shed light on mental health, thus helping to end the stigmas surrounding it, but also to give credit where credit is due.

            The thing that no one wants to say or believe is that mental health does not discriminate. Everson Griffin shows that it does not matter if you are a successful man that is following your passions and making a ton of money while doing so- mental health doesn’t care. Many like to think that mental health is something you can simply grow out of or be too successful for. They think they are immune to it. But Griffin shows that you can do everything right- you can get a well-paying career in something you’re passionate about, get married, have kids, buy a house, and all things we are taught will make us happy, and still end up struggling with mental health. He shows that no one is immune to it, but also that people can still go on to have successful lives despite it. It doesn’t have to define anyone and it’s not something people should fear and look down on; it’s just part of some people’s lives. Having a mental health issue does not make Griffin “crazy” or “psycho,” it just makes him a human being that has an extra barrier to work through and has hit a minor setback. It doesn’t negate all the things he’s done and all the things he will do in the future.

            I also want to comment on the beautiful way the team is handling this. Sadly, people seem to like to make men feel like they are above mental health. All too often they are told to “man up,” “suck it up,” or “get over it.” We live in a society that loves to portray mental health as something that is only for females. Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, have mental breakdowns, or seek help- they are supposed to grin and bear it. For this situation to occur in a setting as “manly” as a football team is nothing short of incredible. To see a coach step up and ban a player from playing until he had a better handle on his mental health is not something many would expect. It would be easy to discredit Griffin, call him week, or bash him into the ground, however I am inspired to see his team rallying behind him to let him know he has their support. Seeing a group of football players offering support for someone who is struggling with mental illness is honestly something I was surprised to see. To see Coach Zimmer and his teammates continue to talk up Everson Griffin without trying to cover up his struggle is inspiring. To hear them say that sanity and safety is a priority above football is shocking in the most beautiful way.

            While I’m sure this is far from their intent, I think what the Vikings team did and continues to do is a huge win in the ongoing battle of mental health. I don’t see a team that is weak or trying to cover their asses- I see a team that is saying “It’s okay struggle with mental health.” All throughout the country, there are grown men seeing this happen and maybe seeing these symptoms in themselves. How the Vikings are handling this could very well be the nudge those men needed to go seek help. Little boys who dream of playing in the NFL are seeing that mental health doesn’t have to stand in their way; that their heroes struggle to and there’s nothing wrong with that. Mental health doesn’t discriminate, but also doesn’t have to consume someone’s life and it definitely does not need to be kept quiet or ruin someone’s life. The more awareness we raise, the more when can educate about it. That’s how you end stigmas. I didn’t think it was possible, but this story makes me love and respect the Vikings even more. As for Everson Griffin- I hope he gets the help he needs and I cannot wait to see what else he is capable of, on and off the field.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

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