Buccaneers Phillip Buchanon (left) and Maurice Stovall brought smiles to the faces of a group of kids receiving treatment at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital on Tuesday
The colorful lobby of St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa provides a comforting environment for the hospital's patients and their families. On Tuesday morning, the entrance's sunlit atrium seemed to get even a little brighter.
Two Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, cornerback Phillip Buchanon and wide receiver Maurice Stovall, visited more than 40 children at the hospital as part of "NFL Tuesdays," the league-wide initiative that urges players to give back to their communities.
Buchanon and Stovall were only too happy to get involved. The players were greeted with big eyes and wide smiles as they entered the hospital, all attention in the room turning toward the jersey-clad men. As the players circled the lobby, they made sure to stop and greet each patient and family in the room.
As usual in such situations, the emotional impact of the players' visit went both ways.
"Just seeing the patients in their situation, it definitely makes you look at life a little differently," Buchanon said. "They are dealing with life-threatening issues and that's totally different from my situation."
As the players Moved through the lobby and signed pennants, posed for pictures and distributed Buccaneers teddy bears, it was apparent that they were enjoying the visit as much as the assembled children.
"It's really great to see the players get down to the kids level, talk to them and really connect," said Leah Fronerath, the hospital's Child Life Supervisor. "It's really interesting how excited the kids are, but more interesting to see how excited the players are to visit."
The teddy bears were a big hit. The bear distribution was part of "Cheering You On!," an initiative by the Glazer Family Foundation that provides every pediatric patient in seven local hospitals with a Buccaneers teddy bear. The program, which has distributed more than 247,000 bears to date, is one of the many ways that the Buccaneers reach out to local youth.
"When a visitor comes in like the Buccaneers, it gives [the patients] an opportunity to forget what they're here for and remember that they're kids and they're a part of the Tampa Bay community," Fronerath said.
Buchanon connected with one Buccaneers fan in particular: Collin Goldstein, who was celebrating his 12th birthday. After he admired the cornerback's watch, Goldstein was given a closer look at it – on his own wrist – and then was told to keep it there.
"I've got others," said Buchanon, simply, about the impromptu gift.
"It's very important to give back because when I was young, I learned that it definitely helps to give kids hope and give them confidence to be able to do great things in life."
Later, as they reflected on their visit, Buchanon and Stovall stressed how much they had appreciated the opportunity to brighten the day of some young children enduring tough times.
"I think that it's a positive experience – both for me and the children in the hospital," Stovall said. "For them to have an NFL player come and visit them and spend one-on-one time with them, even if it's five to ten minutes, is a big deal. And for me, it makes me appreciate the gifts God blessed me with and the little things we take for granted."
Added Buchanon: "I really enjoyed talking to the kids and cheering them up. I can't wait to do it again."