If you follow the NFL, you may already be tangentially aware of the story of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who remains on indefinite leave from the team after suffering a very frightening mental breakdown three weeks ago. It started at the team’s hotel on a Saturday, prior to their loss at home against Buffalo. Griffen was reportedly stalking around the lobby and threatened to “shoot someone” before police were summoned. Griffen was let go without being arrested and left the hotel of his own accord. From there, he went home, where his behavior had already been highly erratic for days prior. A police report from the scene details Griffen had scared his wife and children so badly that they fled the home before he arrived.
Tiffany said that Everson has not been acting normal lately. She stated that last Sunday on 09-16-18 they were sleeping and in the middle of the night he got up and left. Tiffany said that he does this from time to time as he is fighting with “demons” in his head and that it’s normal for him to run away and has done this throughout his life.
When police arrived at Griffen’s house, they loaded him into an ambulance. Griffen then jumped OUT of the ambulance and had to be talked into getting back in to go to a nearby hospital. You can watch TMZ’s video of officers talking down Griffen here, with Griffen clearly saying, “I was scared for my life.”
Griffen hasn’t played football since, and the Vikings don’t have a timetable for his return. It’s possible that Griffen may never come back again. In the wake of all this, Jenny Vrentas over at Sports Illustrated wrote a story about the Vikings’ concern for Griffen’s mental health…
Take a step back and consider the human impact; the meaning of a star athlete taking time away to address his mental health, and the potential role it could play in reclassifying mental health as simply part of one’s overall health, breaking down barriers for those in his line of work or others to seek the help they need.
On the surface, this fits in with the welcome trend of athletes like Kevin Love and Zack Greinke sharing their struggles with mental health in an effort to destigmatize them and raise general awareness. And for once, a football team didn’t make football the priority and attempt to rush Griffen back into the lineup before he was ready. That’s all well and good. I believe the Vikings care about Griffen. I really do.
But there’s something missing from the coverage of Griffen’s story, and that something is football itself. It’s not surprising, but it’s still pretty remarkable that a prominent football player like Griffen can go through a very traumatic and very public lapse of sanity, and yet few people have bothered to ask if football was a contributing cause to that lapse.
I’m obviously not a doctor, but the reported details of Griffen’s breakdown are awfully consistent with other football players who have experienced serious mental-health episodes as a result of suffering severe brain trauma on the field. It’s consistent with former NFL player Rob Kelly, who routinely scares his wife to death with mood swings that his doctor has attributed to repeat concussions. It’s consistent with Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau deliberately driving off of a cliff (Seau would later die from suicide). It’s consistent with the behavior of Griffen’s former USC teammate Kevin Ellison, who exhibited serious mental-health issues before turning up dead along Interstate 5 in Los Angeles three days ago. Ellison’s family has already asked to have his brain studied for signs of CTE.
In the police report detailing Griffen’s breakdown, his wife notes to officers that “He does this from time to time as he is fighting with ‘demons’ in his head and that it’s normal for him to run away and has done this throughout his life.” So yes, it’s possible that the issues Griffen has dealt with are completely unrelated to playing football. But Griffen has also played the sport for the bulk of his life, and it’s not exactly a pursuit that helps alleviate brain trauma. It’s perfectly fair to ask if football did this to Griffen, or at least made his problems worse than they already were.
But you will not hear that sort of question asked, especially not by anyone associated with the Vikings or the NFL. Once again, the narrative has been spun into an inappropriately touchy-feely story about the Vikings giving Griffen the time he needs to get better. I’m glad they’re doing so, but this reminds me a lot of the Ryan Shazier injury, where the NFL passed GO and breezed right to the inspiring comeback storyline without ever reckoning with the fact that football destroys people. You shouldn’t get credit for pulling a bullet out of a man if you’re the one who shot him.
I swear that you will not hear a fucking hint about this from any pregame show, or during any game broadcast, or even from major print outlets. Roger Goodell would bust out his best frowny face if the subject were ever broached. There is an entire media infrastructure in place to aid the NFL in this deft bit of evasion, and it never stops being gross. As it stands now, the prevailing storyline supposes that Griffen could potentially get “better,” but refuses to entertain the notion that football has forever prevented him from being able to do so. It also ignores the bureaucratic hell former players face when the sport IS proven to cause their brains to break. You and I know damn well that if Everson Griffen is going to survive this—if such a thing is truly possible for him—football cannot be a part of his future, or anyone else’s future, for that matter. The sport kills you, and that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you live long enough for the sport to hold you up as a token of its compassion.