EAGAN, Minn. -- Everson Griffen has been thrilling Minnesota Vikings fans for a decade with his rugged defensive play on the football field. Now, he’s inspiring them for something else.
The defensive end missed five games last season because of a mental health issue. While he has not provided many specifics about what he went through, he has talked openly about the importance of seeking help and about hoping he can assist others.
Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly has been active in mental health issues. He played a key role in putting together last July’s second University of Minnesota Health Health Awareness Day at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan.
“Of people diagnosed and their families, a handful did bring it up then,” Weatherly said Thursday, Sept. 12, of the impact of Griffen’s story. “He has helped a lot of people, at least in the Minnesota Vikings fan community, knowing that someone who they look up, someone who they admire on the field, had to go through something that maybe they have gone through or someone they love has gone through. And he had enough courage to seek help.”
Weatherly said workers in the mental health field also have told him that Griffen coming forward has been helpful.
“Probably countless people who have read Everson Griffen’s story have also went out and felt comfortable enough to go out and also seek help,” Weatherly said. “His story is out there, and it’s touching people.”
After playing in the first two games last season, Griffen was away from the team for five weeks, a period that included being hospitalized. He was involved in several incidents that led to that, including one at a downtown Minneapolis hotel in which he allegedly threatened to shoot someone. No gun was found, and he was not arrested.
Griffen returned for the final nine games, but his Pro Bowl streak ended at three. In the Vikings’ 28-12 victory over Atlanta in last week’s opener, Griffen had a sack, and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he “looked a lot like when he was in the Pro Bowl.”
“My goal right now is just to keep on doing what I’m doing,” Griffen said Thursday. “Win the day. Win the moment. … Stick to the people that I have in my corner that are helping me each and every day, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is it’s OK to seek help. … It’s OK to reach out to somebody and ask for help, and it feels good.”
The 10-year veteran was asked about people he perhaps has inspired by going public with his issue.
“I know if I can just stay the course, I’m making an impact with a lot of people,” Griffen said. “That’s what I want to do, stay the course, for my family first and foremost, for my wife and my kids, and for this team because the Vikings organization took great care of me during my hard times. … (Last year) taught me a valuable lesson that it’s OK to ask for help, and I’m going to keep on doing that until the wheels fall off.”
Next up for the Vikings is Sunday’s game at Green Bay.
Griffen, 31, has had years of success against the Packers, with 11 1/2 sacks in his past 14 games against them.
Trying to slow Griffen down will be Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari. Griffen took a playful jab at him.
“He holds pretty good,” Griffen said. “But he’s a good player, too. David Bakhtiari, I rank him on the top each and every year we have a battle. He’s in my top three left tackles in the game, for sure.”
Griffen looked good against Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews. He had a sack in the second quarter and another one in the fourth quarter that was nullified by a penalty. He also had two quarterback hits.
“His game is all about violence and speed off the edge,” Zimmer said Thursday. “He’s a smart guy, but he’s tough, and he’s kind of our Energizer bunny.”
Weatherly agreed with Zimmer that Griffen looked a lot like he did during his Pro Bowl years.
“He was disruptive, effective at stopping the run, a dominant force, demanding of chips and double teams and protection sliding his way,” Weatherly said. “So he was much like he was before.”
But now Griffen is having an impact in another way, too.
“I do a couple of (mental health events), and whenever I do one, someone always brings it up and says, ‘Tell Everson that he’s a great guy and he has a lot of courage for doing what he did and being public and sharing his story,’ ” Weatherly said.