I felt a strong connection with this week's guest because we played football with the same style. Griffin Murray was a preferred walk-on for the Rutgers University football team (where we met). Like all walk-ons, Griffin had to do whatever he could to stand out on the field and earn the respect of his teammates and coaches. Early on in our conversation Griffin acknowledged his struggles with learning disabilities and difficulty in making friends while growing up, but that he ultimately found a home and a purpose in football. Griffin wasn't the kind of player who was going to whip out an Odell Beckham catch or ever wow coaches with his 40 time, but he always made his presence felt with his heart and intense passion for the game. You can feel the passion and intensity in Griffin's voice throughout the entire interview.
Everyone has experienced those "Ohhhhh" moments in a football game either as an athlete or spectator. These instances usually come after hearing the crack of the helmets colliding. Griffin relished in these moments...And so did I. Griffin embraced his role on the field as The Disrupter and was never afraid to get in your face. Unfortunately, fulfilling this role was often at the expense of his health.
Griffin and I had a really interesting conversation heart and toughness in this episode. He says heart is hunger in the moment and toughness is time. I had never thought about toughness in this way before, but it makes complete sense. Griffin put it in these terms, heart is a game, but toughness is 13 games. I really like this definition of toughness because whats the point of playing injured and sacrificing your body if you can't live to fight another day? This is where Griffin explains the decision athletes need to make to play smart and to understand there is a difference between being injured and being hurt. Run out of bounds instead of lowering your shoulder, don't lead with your head, take the path of least resistance.
"You are doing your teammates a disservice by playing hurt, when ones ego gets in the way, you have to ask yourself, who are you hurting the most. If you're at 90% the guy next to you has to give 110%."
According to Griffin, coaches would often say throughout his career "if your maintenance outweighs your production, its time for you to leave." Griffin has come to realize that you are doing your teammates a disservice by playing hurt, when ones ego gets in the way, you have to ask yourself, who are you hurting the most? If you're at 90% the guy next to you has to give 110%." During the interview, Griffin uses a cool spartan analogy to explain how each soldier benefits from the protection of their neighbors' shields as well as their own. This is a message I want all athletes to embrace. You might think you are being "cool" or "tough" by playing hurt, but you are really just putting yourself at greater risk to further injure yourself and you are relying on your teammates to pick up your slack. Learn from Griffin and I because unfortunately, we learned this far too late. At one point during our conversation Griffin estimated that he suffered at least 20 concussions throughout his athletic career, but believes he could have extended his career had he let himself heal and taken himself out.
Griffin's first concussion came in eighth grade while playing in a varsity lacrosse game. He takes us through this play along with one of the other major concussions he suffered while trying to make a name for himself with the Rutgers Football team. While at Rutgers, most of Griffin's opportunities to get noticed were on special teams. Specifically, playing two of the worst positions in not just football, but I would argue in all sports, being in the wedge and being the wedge buster. Luckily the football Gods have recently agreed that these positions suck and wedges are now illegal. Griffin discusses the concussion he suffered on kick off during a practice where he got "ear-holed" by a teammate. This concussion was also the beginning of the end for Griffin's football career. He was sidelined with post-concussion symptoms (PCS) for months after that hit. Ultimately, Griffin was advised by a neurologist to stop playing football.
Side Note: While on the topic of concussions, Griffin advises the best way to prevent kids from playing with concussions is having more eyes on the field, specifically with athletic trainers (ATC's). I couldn't agree more! ATC's have a unique relationship with the athletes and have a knack for noticing even small changes in behavior.
"The reason we start playing football is to impress our dad, but we continue playing football because of our friends."
Griffin went into detail about the mental and emotional struggles he faced while being forced to sit out of practice and games because of concussions. It broke his heart to be away from the team. Surprisingly, he said the tough part came when he started feeling better but he actually wasn't better. It is during this time he says that distractions come back in and the pressures to go out to the bars with friend can often ruin an athlete and their discipline. He began feeling depressed and desperately searched for another outlet because his sense of purpose had completely vanished. Griffin admitted that his teammates were annoyed by his distractions, but explained that without the adrenaline rush he got from running out onto the field, he found himself just waiting around for the next exciting thing to happen. The last thing he wanted to do was to lose his buddies and their respect for him.
Eventually Griffin started searching for new outlets outside of football. He has always had an entrepreneurial mind and was a witness to the work his father did with co-founding Autism Speaks. After interning on Wall Street, Griffin and a teammate came up with a crowd funding idea and he says that it saved him. He found a new purpose in business, a new team to work with and it provided an outlet for him to be the same bulldog he was on the field.
"Expand your horizons. that's just as hard, if not harder than running down the field and smacking someone in the face."
Griffin's advice to athletes for transitioning to a life after sports, which he feels might be the saddest realization you will ever come to is, "don’t give yourself excuses, its over, you have to accept it, you are bigger than that. Don’t try to hold on to something that’s over. You are an athlete and a champion. Go put that energy in something else and dominate it." In addition to finding the start up as a new outlet, Griffin has also enjoyed the addition of bujinkan ninjutsu in his life after football.
We finish the interview by discussing how to make the sport of football safer to play without changing the game. Griffen recommends all players who make unnecessarily dangerous penalties to ask themselves this: