Remember backyard pickup games of football? Going to the park to shoot hoops? Or maybe your neighborhood was more into "capture the flag" or "ghost in the graveyard," with kids canvassing yards and alleyways until the streetlights came on. These are the childhood memories that many of us look back on fondly. They shaped us. And in some cases, even resulted in careers in professional sports – just ask the Gronkowski family.
"I [attribute] some of my success to my childhood," said Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is one of five Gronkowski boys that all grew up to be pro athletes. "I feel like it got me ready."
Ready for a 10-year-and-counting career as an NFL tight end with multiple league records to his name and three Super Bowl championship rings, to be exact.
"I remember having everything accessible to me," he continued. "If we wanted to play in the backyard, we could. If we wanted to play in a park, we could. If we wanted to play in a baseball league, our parents could sign us up and we could play in a baseball league. I just felt like it was definitely an advantage to have all the tools and all the equipment growing up to help lead me down a successful path."
But not every child has those tools. Not every kid has the opportunity or the resources to sign up for sports. Some schools don't have the funds to maintain their athletic programs. And after countless visits to children's hospitals and donations to local youth football programs early in his career, Gronkowski figured, 'Hey, why don't I start my own foundation to help less fortunate kids that don't have the opportunities I had growing up?'
And so, the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation, whose logo will be emblazoned on Gronkowski's cleats this Sunday, came to be.
Now, Gronkowski and his four brothers, along with their father Gordy, continue their visits to children's hospitals, help put on youth football camps and give donations to youth athletic programs – all to help promote youth fitness and health.
"Do it for the kids!" it says right there on the website.
Gronkowski didn't waste any time when it came to helping the Tampa community when he signed with the Buccaneers this offseason, either. He had been in training camp for just a couple of weeks when he was told about a fire that burned a shed at Blake High School. It had housed all of their football program's equipment. That's when the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation stepped in and replaced all of it – complete with a brand-new storage unit – so the team could get back on the field.
"They help us out," said Gronkowski of the Tampa community, that has immediately embraced the former Patriots star. "They come out every Sunday to support us so it was a great opportunity to make a mark in the Tampa community and help Blake High School out so they can keep playing this year."
Week 14 will be the Buccaneers' first opportunity to showcase their customized cleats for the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative and like Gronkowski and his six-foot, six-inch frame – they won't be hard to spot. The rainbow-colored cleats have the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation symbol on them, along with silhouettes of kids playing together, just like Gronkowski and his brothers did growing up.
"It's a little crazy because I like being crazy too, sometimes," Gronkowski said of the design with a laugh. "I think crazy is good. So, it's all over the place with colors."
And with his cleats, Gronkowski also revealed a brand-new project the foundation is working on for 2021: a new Boston-city playground that he himself has a personal hand in designing.
"It's just going to be a great thing to do," said Gronkowski, excitedly. "It's something I've always wanted to do and it's going to be really fun."
More information will be available in the coming months as far as location and what will all be included, but one thing is for sure: if the Gronkowski family is involved, it's going to be one heck of a playground.
Gronkowski is one of six players supporting their own foundations for this year's My Cause, My Cleats initiative, which provides players an outlet to bring awareness to charitable efforts of their choice by wearing customized cleats on the national stage of game day. Fifty-seven Buccaneers players are participating, along with a record number of more than 1,000 players league-wide. You can bid on Gronkowski's Gronk Nation Youth Foundation cleats right here:
All proceeds will go back to the foundation. Bidding closes January 10.