ATLANTA, GA – FEBRUARY 03: Former Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez looks on during Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
When Tony Gonzalez played football, people watched. It was difficult not to notice the newly inducted Hall of Famer, who after 12 seasons in the NFL leads the league in career receiving yards for a tight end (15,127).
But it was the philanthropic initiatives that the former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons superstar participated in that elevated his legacy. And no one appreciates and understands Tony’s impact better than Marty Postlethwait, who founded the charitable organization Shadow Buddies.
Tony Gonzalez And The Inception of Shadow Buddies
Shadow Buddies, which is celebrating 24 years of service in September, was started as a result of Marty’s son, Miles. Born premature with midline congenital birth defects, Miles had to undergo a multitude of surgeries. For any young child and his family going through this adversity, it can be challenging and trying.
“The first five years of Miles’ life were spent in hospital,” explained Marty over the phone. “Every time Miles would go in for another surgery, he wished he had a friend just like me.”
At the core of Shadow Buddies is the belief that children with severe illnesses deserve a companion. The foundation accomplishes this by creating condition-specific “Shadow Buddy” dolls. Crafted from muslin and carefully researched to represent a child’s medical or emotional condition, Shadow Buddies offer medically challenged children, like Miles, the companionship of a friend “just like me.”
Now, Shadow Buddies, originally based in Kansas City, distributes 1.6 million dolls worldwide. Marty and Miles strive to ensure that every child, regardless of the condition, can have the support to get through the challenging times.
“Schools, hospitals and other organizations have partnered with Shadow Buddies to provide children with hope. While medicine has changed, having a companion in a time of need has remained the same” affirmed Marty.
Tony Gonzalez and the Entrenched Connection with Shadow Buddies
When Tony Gonzalez was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1997, he was destined to become an NFL star. But in addition to football, Gonzalez had an obligation to take part in the Chiefs community service endeavors.
Numerous charities made their pitch for Gonzalez to be their poster child. But it was Shadow Buddies that the rising football star ultimately selected. The charity brought back memories of Tony’s childhood when his Mom was an administrator to a nursing home.
“After school, Tony would have to walk to the nursing home to meet his Mom,” explained Marty. “He would play cards, dominoes and read to the patients. Tony loved the Shadow Buddies Program and we are grateful that he made us his charity of choice.”
Gonzalez and his Mother could see the true meaning and purpose of Shadow Buddies. As a result of the tight end’s charitable efforts, Marty and her family established a relationship with the Gonzalez’s that continues to this day. Tony has donated 98,000 Shadow Buddies worldwide, including multiple visits to Los Angeles Children Hospital in his hometown.
While he played for the Chiefs and the Falcons, Gonzalez always made an effort to deliver the Shadow Buddies in-person to patients in the major Kansas City and Atlanta hospitals. There was a good chance that every Sunday, Gonzalez would make a highlight reel catch that would ignite the energy of the fanbases he played for. But making a patient’s day with a Shadow Buddy, proved the humble, altruistic nature of Tony Gonzalez. Who inspired the belief in these kids to dream the impossible, reach those goals and never give up.
The Special Bond Between Tony and Miles
Not only is Marty grateful for the work Tony Gonzalez has done with the Shadow Buddies program. But it has provided her son, Miles, an opportunity to feel comfortable with his skin, by developing a close bond with a football star.
“Tony is the brother that Miles has never had,” says Marty. “When Miles had open-heart surgery in Chicago, Tony would come off the practice field to call him and make sure he is okay. I love the fact that Tony has been so involved with our family.”
On Tuesdays, Gonzalez would often invite Miles down to the Kansas City plaza, to join his fellow Chiefs players for dinner. According to Marty, it allowed the two to get to know each other and a chance for Miles to open up to Tony about the obstacles he was going through. It was always Gonzalez who gave Miles the confidence to do things that he once feared.
During the Pro Bowl, while Marty and Miles were on the beach, Gonzalez and his friends were swimming in the ocean. Something that Miles had never done before.
“Miles was hesitant to take his shirt off and go swimming,” recalls Marty. “But Tony reassured him, saying, “Nobody cares, we are your family. We accept you for who you are.” It was the first time Miles could be himself.”
Another instance came when the Chiefs tight end invited Miles to deliver the Shadow Buddies. Miles was always anxious of the ICU, particularly since he spent so much of his early life undergoing procedures. But with the help of Tony, the now 32-year-old Miles was able to conquer his fear, helping the tight end fulfill his charitable duties. Says Marty, “Tony was able to show him that the ICU is not what you think it is.”
Tony Gonzalez’ Legacy Transcends Bust in Canton
On Saturday, the football world will honour and enshrine the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class into Canton, Ohio. A part of the Tony Gonzalez contingent attending is his Grandmother, who recently turned 101. It will certainly be an emotional moment, particularly for someone as humble and appreciative as Gonzalez.
The energy that Gonzalez brought every week to the Chiefs and the Falcons will never be forgotten. His ability to be the pivotal leader on the field redefined the tight end position.
“Tight end never used to be a glamour position until Tony came along,” said former Chiefs running back Priest Holmes. Now you’ve got kids growing up asking to play tight end because it’s all about getting the pigskin.”
But for Marty, Miles and countless others, it was Gonzalez’s innate skill to bring happiness to people that will live on far beyond his bust being enshrined in Canton. Even in his retirement from football, Gonzalez always finds an opportunity to make a difference.
Through Shadow Buddies, Marty witnessed first hand the extraordinary contributions Gonzalez made for Kansas City and the community. Miles may still have challenges but his confidence has blossomed as a result of his friendship with Tony.
Gonzalez was given the gift to play the game of football at a high level. And he inspired a plethora of individuals who may not have had a chance to believe they have a place in this world.
Main photo:Embed from Getty Images