Better fathers and husbands make for better men. Better men make for better players. And better players make for a better, more successful football team.
That’s the driving ethos of a new internal program launched by the New York Giants. The “Raising Little Giants Parenting Session” was the brainchild of David Tyree, the team’s director of player engagement, and Ashley Lynn, assistant director of player engagement.
Tyree, most remembered for his “helmet catch” that helped the Giants beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s undefeated New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLII, is the father of seven kids, ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old. The NFL veteran has seen the difference between players who come in and rested and happy – and those too tired and stressed out to perform at their best.
So Tyree invited half a dozen team couples to the franchise’s first “Little Giants” event on Dec. 3 at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, the team’s training facility. Some of the young parents were expecting their first child. Others had kids but were looking for helpful advice. Another young couple couldn’t make it because the wife went into labor right before the event and she was still in the hospital.
The Giants also invited Meg Meeker, author of “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” and “Boys Should Be Boys.” She served as the keynote speaker. Nicknamed “Dr. Meg,” the pediatrician and author has been involved in the NFL Player Engagement’s Fatherhood Initiative for the past five years. The Giants provided child care. The kids worked on holiday crafts while the adults talked about parenting.
Golden Tate, a nine-year NFL veteran, said it was great to hear how other Moms and Dads problem-solved with their kids. Tate and his wife have two small children, who they taught sign language at an early age. They picked up some valuable tips at the event.
“We had a great balance of people. There were people having newborns and very small babies,” the 31-year old wide receiver said. “There were also some families with 3, 4 or 5-year olds. We heard some things that will be applicable to use in another year. So that was cool.”
Tate also agrees with the impetus for the program as well.
“In the world we live in now, we need more leaders. We as football players have a platform to reach a lot of people. But to reach a lot of people, I think you need to have leadership skills,” he said.
“Yes, you can go out there and score all the touchdowns in the world. Which is cool and dandy. But if you can’t communicate, or lead a group of people to be better, than I think it’s kind of a waste…Yes, this is my job to play football and this is how I feed my family. But my calling is to leave this league better than how I entered it. That’s how I feel about it. So I try to give all the advice I can.”
Giants wideout Russell Shepard and his wife also attended the event. The couple plan to homeschool their three young children. During “Little Giants,” they compared notes with the Tates about teaching their kids sign language. They also want to teach their kids Spanish.
As a seven-year NFL veteran, Shepard thinks there’s a “direct correlation” between happiness at home – and gameday performance on the gridiron.
“When guys are focused and fully invested in this game, it allows them to play at a higher level. The only way you become fully invested and focus on this game is if your outside things and responsibilities are in place and happy,” said the 29-year old wide receiver and special teams player. “We have a lot of guys who have relationship and marriage issues, things they’re going through with their children, and it hurts their game. You see it every year. Not just young players. But older players. Vets. Guys who participated in Super Bowls and won games at a high level. “
“I think this organization and David Tyree are spot-on: If you can help facilitate and make for a better home, I think you create a better player,” he said.
While best known for their on-field play “Little Giants” focuses on the fact that many NFL players are young fathers trying to do the best they can for their families.
Shepard, for example, wants to become an agent and an advocate for youth with troubled pasts when he retires from NFL. He recalls watching many Pro Football Hall of Famers apologize for being bad fathers and husbands during their acceptance speeches.
“It’s very important that we practice good habits. We practice being the best fathers, the best athletes, the best role models that we can be. Because we have the next generation of athletes looking up to us,” said Shepard. “They want to see, when a guy has success, what does he do with his money? Does he invest in businesses? Or does he invest in (fancy) cars? When he has free time does he spend it with his children? Or clubbing? Or going overseas?”
Social media magnifies the mistakes and crimes of pro athletes. It’s easy to ignore or forget the many good things that NFL players do for their families and communities, noted Amy Trask, the former chief executive officer of the Oakland Raiders.
“The overwhelming (really and truly overwhelming) percentage of current and former NFL players do tremendous good throughout many communities while only a very small percentage do bad things,” said Trask, who’s currently an analyst for CBS Sports.
“Unfortunately, the focus is all too often on those players who do wrong rather than on those who make such tremendous, positive contributions. The Little Giants program is one example of a program designed to positively impact others and I think it’s terrific that the team and the players are working on this program together.”