EAGAN, Minn. – This is bigger than football.
That was the message delivered by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who resumed team activities Wednesday after being away for nearly five weeks to focus on personal matters.
Griffen is thrilled to be back with his teammates and coaches and playing the sport he's so passionate about. But he's equally – if not more so – focused on improving his health and wellbeing, not only for himself but for his family.
"I live for this each and every day, but I also live for my family, too," Griffen said. "You have to have that balance in life, and that's what I'm working toward, having that balance each and every day."
Griffen participated in the Vikings Wednesday afternoon practice before speaking with Twin Cities media members.
"I learned a lot about the man outside of football," he said. "I had a lot of time to reflect on my life and where I want to go and the decisions I made."
Griffen said he took "full responsibility" for an incident that occurred in September and expressed gratitude for the support of the Vikings, his family, doctors, fans and media.
"I want to give my apologies to the people I impacted. I'm sorry if I affected them in any type of way," Griffen said. "I'm just excited to get back here with my team and get back to the grind of things. It's been hard to be away, but I'm happy to be back. It's a good feeling right now. I'm going to take it one day at a time, one thing at a time, to get things back on track."
Since being drafted by the Vikings in 2010, Griffen has learned how to game plan for opponents and prepare for adversity on the field.
Now, Griffen is focused on a strategy that extends far past the hashmarks.
"This is bigger than football," Griffen later added. "We've got a team, we've got a good group of individuals – the Minnesota Vikings, the doctors, myself, my family – and we're got a plan in place, and we're going to execute the plan day-in and day-out, and we're going to stay on top of it. That's our goal. This is bigger than football. It's a part of the plan, and I'm excited to be back."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer expressed support for Griffen the person over Griffen the pass rusher during his podium session Wednesday morning.
When asked if he expects Griffen to play against the Saints Sunday, Zimmer responded, "We are just going to see how he comes back."
"Really, that's not the focus right now," Zimmer said. "The focus is just seeing how he's doing, work him in a little bit and then we'll decide at the end of the week.
"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 later added. "I know people that I have dealt with in the past. I know people, the doctors, the medical experts, they all help with these situations. I don't think this is as unique as what we are making it out to be. This is an illness, and he's done a good job of helping to get better and continues to try to get better. He's probably going to have to continue to do that. Just like we all have to do in life."
It was a great feeling for Griffen to walk into Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Wednesday morning and be reunited with his teammates after more than a month.
He said it was "just good to see the smiles on their faces" and that he was welcomed back with open arms.
"They want me to be the 'wild man,' and I want to be that wild man," said Griffen, who has come to be known by his effervescent personality on and off the field. "But I'm just taking it one day at a time and just processing everything and getting everything back on track."
Griffen was asked if he can "still be" that person.
"Of course. But that's in due time," Griffen said. "I'm going to try to keep it simple and just go day by day and just do the right things day-in and day-out – that's the plan."
Even while being away from the team, Griffen has been training and working out to maintain his physical conditioning. He reminded, however, that playing football is about more than just being in shape, and he knows he'll have to get back into the flow and timing of things.
It was difficult for Griffen to be away and watch the Vikings play without him, but he also emphasized that it was "the right thing for me, completely," and that he understood the importance of patience and humility in this situation.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I needed this. I need this to figure out myself, and it was a good thing," said Griffen, who later added, "You've got to appreciate the little things in life, and I appreciate the little things for life. I'm not taking any day [for granted]; every day is a blessing. You have to be grateful, and I'm just excited to be back here."
Griffen told media members that he plans to share more of his story and experience at a later time and that it's "a hundred percent" his plan to use his platform to share and encourage others.
"I just want to be able to do it at the right time, the right place and the right opportunity," Griffen said.
When asked how he would encourage people facing similar struggles or obstacles in their life, Griffen emphasized that it's important to ask for help, find a good support team and focus on self-care.
Is that difficult to do as a 6-foot-3, 273-pound NFL player who is frequently in view of the public?
Griffen wants to change that stigma.
"You have to put your pride aside," Griffen said. "Sometimes you just have to put your pride aside and know when enough is enough. Sometimes you have to take it upon yourself and know when enough is enough and you can't handle it. When life is too much and you can't find that balance.
"And that's all I tried to do is find that balance and work toward my health and wellness – and not just football," Griffen added. "It's bigger than football. It's my life, my family, my kids."