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Zulgad: Everson Griffen’s return to Vikings is definitely a unique situation

By Judd Zulgad

Mike Zimmer all but pleaded for the assembled media at TCO Performance Center to ask him about Sunday’s game against the Saints. “Are we going to talk about the Saints at all? They’re pretty good,” Zimmer said just over two minutes into his press conference on Wednesday morning.

Zimmer, of course, knew the answer.

He was well aware of the fact that the majority of questions early on would focus on Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen. The Vikings announced late Tuesday afternoon via a press release that Griffen would be returning to the team after spending a month away to deal with a mental health issue. That left Zimmer, a lifelong football coach, to answer questions about Griffen.

“I don’t think this is as unique as what we’re making it out to be,” Zimmer said. “This is an illness and he’s done a good job of helping to get better and continues to try to get better and is probably going to have to continue to do that.”

Zimmer is right in that many people suffer with mental health issues, but where his comment felt off base is that Griffen isn’t an ordinary guy returning to the office after what happened on that late September day when he was transported to a mental health facility in an ambulance after officers in his Minnetrista neighborhood decided that was the best course of action.

Griffen is employed in a sport where being macho is everything and discussing mental health isn’t exactly the norm. He is making an average annual salary of $14.5 million under the terms of a four-year contract because of his ability to throw opposing offensive linemen aside and sack the quarterback. Last season, he did that a career-high 13 times. The year before he had eight sacks and in the two years before that he combined for 22.5 sacks.

Griffen is known as an emotional leader of the Vikings’ defense because of the passion he brings to the field. The Vikings have won three consecutive games — Griffen has missed the past five games — and will take a 4-2-1 record into their key NFC matchup against the 5-1 New Orleans Saints on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Zimmer wouldn’t say if Griffen would play in the game, but there is no doubt the Vikings could use the standout defensive end against one of the best teams in the conference. With all due respect to Kirk Cousins’ pep talks the past three weeks, the Vikings likely would love to hear Griffen’s passion in the pregame huddle.

But that’s where this gets dicey and it’s also where his situation is unique.

Hopefully, Griffen has received the help he needs in recent weeks to get his life back on track. But is it then fair to expect him to step back on the football field and be his wild-self again? I don’t have the answer, but it’s a fair question.

I spent eight years covering the NFL for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and thus was around locker rooms and players on a daily basis during the season. I can tell you it’s about as far from a normal work environment as one can possibly get. That doesn’t mean that players and coaches can’t be or aren’t supportive of each other, but everything about football has to do with being tough and that doesn’t allow for a lot of compassion most of the time.

You could probably count on one hand the amount of conversations about mental health that have taken place in an NFL locker room.

Consider the recent story from The Athletic that quarterback Derek Carr has a “fractured relationship” with teammates in part because there were perceptions he was crying on the field in Oakland’s Week 6 loss to Seattle after his non-throwing arm was damaged.

Carr felt it necessary to defend himself on Twitter — “Not one tear. Not one time.” — but that only goes to show you how the NFL world operates. Cry because I was hurt? Never.

And now Griffen walks back into his previous life and a world where so much as a tear falling from your eye might be perceived as a weakness. Hopefully, Griffen has found happiness. Hopefully, everything in his world has changed for the (far) better.

“I’d bet there’s people in this room who have had to deal with these kind of issues as well,” Zimmer said. “Everybody in life has probably had to deal with some kind of these different types of issues that go on and aren’t necessarily hamstrings.”

Zimmer is right. But those people aren’t walking back into NFL locker rooms or going onto the field and expected to overpower their opponent. Maybe in the past NFL players simply ignored their mental health or were simply put back on the field without receiving any help. Thankfully, that is no longer the case — or at least it’s not in this situation — and that is a positive step.

But, make no mistake, what Griffen is about to go through is extremely unique given his profession.

The post Zulgad: Everson Griffen’s return to Vikings is definitely a unique situation appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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