10 NFL Players Who Overcame Barriers to Their Disabilities

From Shaquem Griffin to Tom Dempsey, the league is full of inspiring stories.

With the big Super Bowl game coming up, the spotlight is on the NFL. While we have a lot of football fans here at Easterseals NJ, we’re the biggest fans of players making a difference in the disability community. Many of these players created foundations and nonprofits to help others. Below are just a handful of current and former players that showcase that anything is possible.

Keith O’Neill

The former Colts and Cowboys linebacker has been vocal about his struggle with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. O’Neill started the 4th and Forever Foundation to help others struggling with mental health.

Brandon Marshall

Marshall, a former NFL linebacker, announced he had borderline personality disorder in 2011. He’s made it his mission to spread awareness and destigmatize BPD. He even started his own nonprofit– Project 375– with the goal of “unlocking human potential through conversation, education, & inspiration.”

Shaquem Griffin

Griffin is a former NFL linebacker (and twin brother of Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin) born with Amniotic Band Syndrome. ABS affected Griffin’s right hand, causing it to become underdeveloped. Griffin eventually underwent surgical amputation to have the hand removed. Griffin has worked with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a sports program for those with physical disabilities.

Tom Dempsey

The late Tom Dempsey was a kicker for the New Orleans Saints. Dempsey’s kicking foot was deformed; he wore a special boot while playing. He famously made a record-setting field goal against the Detroit Lions in 1970. The kick resulted in the “Tom Dempsey Rule” which now requires all players to use shoes similar to the NFL standard. Interestingly enough, Dempsey’s custom shoe was lighter than other shoes.

Brent Boyd

Often called the father of concussion awareness, Boyd is a former NFL offensive guard for the Minnesota Vikings. He founded the advocacy group, Dignity After Football, and famously testified in front of congress regarding the NFL’s disability plan.

Rocky Bleier

Bleier was a former halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He sustained severe injuries to his right foot and leg during the Vietnam War. He wrote a book about his experience, Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story, discussing his injuries and his time in the NFL.

Tedy Bruschi

Bruschi, a former linebacker for the NFL and current ​​senior advisor to the head coach at the University of Arizona, suffered a stroke in 2005. After sitting out a season to recover, he was able to continue playing for several more seasons. Shortly after his stroke, he started a non-profit organization, Tedy’s Team, to raise awareness for stroke and heart disease victims while supporting survivors.

Samari Rolle

Rolle, a former cornerback for the Oilers and Ravens, has been very open about living with epilepsy. While he eventually retired, citing his illness as well as injuries sustained on the field, he’s currently the assistant football coach at a high school in Florida.

Joe Barksdale

Barksdale is a former offensive tackle in the NFL, but his impressive resume also includes singer-songwriter and stand-up comedian. Last year, Barksdale publicly shared his autism diagnosis. He mentioned in an interview with the Today Show that the diagnosis made him feel comfortable with who he is.

Eric LeGrand

LeGrand signed a symbolic contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, but he’s never played in the NFL. This college footballer fractured two of his vertebrae in a game against Army, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Since then, LeGrand has created a platform to speak out about those living with spinal cord injuries. He partnered with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to create the nonprofit Team LeGrand. He’s also an author, sports analyst, and motivational speaker.

Of course, these are just a handful of the many NFL players with disabilities who are making a difference in the world. Who are some of your favorite players and nonprofits?

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1 thought on “10 NFL Players Who Overcame Barriers to Their Disabilities”

  1. My grand son has been diagnosed with autism. He has a passion and plays football and basketball. He’s 12 years old he shys his way in public he is shy but he loves sports.


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