Everson Griffen returned to practice Wednesday, shortly after his coach hinted that the Vikings’ star defensive end could play in a game as soon as Sunday.
This all makes sense, right? The Vikings have a lot of money invested in Griffen. He’s one of their best players. On Sunday, they’re facing the New Orleans Saints, an excellent team, in a game with playoff implications.
In returning to his team after more than a month spent seeing to his mental health, Griffen will be able to reintroduce normalcy into his life by spending time with friends and teammates in a regimented environment.
This would all sound fine and logical if Griffen were an accountant. He’s not an accountant. Griffen is now in line to play a game of tackle football soon after, according to police reports, he lay on a hotel lobby floor threatening to shoot people.
This feels wrong, or at least rushed.
Rejoining his teammates at the Vikings’ training facility might be good for Griffen. Everything else — practicing, playing, taking even light hits to the head — sounds inadvisable.
I do not possess a degree in psychiatry, and there will be many who will place faith in the Vikings’ decisionmakers. I’d have more faith if the sport in question wasn’t football, and the league in question wasn’t the NFL, the Big Tobacco of entertainment.
The Vikings might have Griffen’s best interests at heart, but if I were in Griffen’s inner circle, I’d want to get a second opinion, then a third and fourth. I would not bet my long-term mental health on a league that not long ago was denying that football causes brain injuries.
So here we are: About five weeks after Griffen was involved in what can most politely be described as police incidents dealing with his behavior, he is being reintroduced into a violent sport while feeling pressure to perform at a Pro Bowl level.
I was skeptical until Mike Zimmer held his news conference. Then I turned cynical.
The most jarring moment in Zimmer’s presser was offered so quietly that it might have been missed.
Asked whether Griffen could play this week, Zimmer said, “I don’t know. We’re just going to see how he comes back. Really, that’s not the focus right now. The focus is seeing how he’s doing, work him in a little bit and decide at the end of the week.”
The “at the end of the week” part trailed off, but should be amplified. Zimmer is either considering playing a rusty Griffen on Sunday, or he’s willing to raise the possibility in the same way he keeps his options open about injured players.
In addressing the mental health of a key player, Zimmer also whined, a little more than two minutes into the news conference, that no one had asked any questions about the Saints. Later, he tried to normalize Griffen’s situation by guessing that a lot of people in the room had gone through difficult times.
This is wrongheaded, and a good reason to not have a grizzled head coach handle questions about mental health. It shouldn’t be in his job description, and he’s not good at it.
Remember when Adrian Peterson hit his son with a switch? The Vikings mishandled their public statements on that as well, until team executive Kevin Warren finally issued a clear organizational message.
Wednesday afternoon after practice, Griffen stood behind a lectern outside the locker room and said all of the right things in a cheerful tone of voice. He looks and sounds like himself. And the mental health professionals with whom I have conversed say that such appearances mean nothing. The last time I saw Griffen before his troubling episode, he was joking with reporters.
If Griffen held a typical cubicle-sitting job, returning to work might be the best thing for him. But Griffen’s job is rather unusual. As soon as Sunday, he will be placed in a pressure- and noise-filled stadium while risking a concussion.
I’ll consider this a terrible idea until the Vikings do or say something to change my mind. Zimmer didn’t come close Wednesday.