MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. You know how in America we say we don't like dynasties, but then again, we actually kind of do. And we're certainly fascinated by them, and if you follow sports, in particular football, then you're probably fascinated by the Gronkowskis.
While most sports loving families would be thrilled to have one family member in the NFL, of the five Gronkowski brothers, three are in the NFL - Rob, Dan and Chris. Oldest brother Gordie Jr. played professional baseball and the youngest brother, Goose, is now on a football scholarship at Kansas State. The Gronkowskis are sharing their remarkable story in their new joint memoir, "Growing up Gronk: A Family's Story of Raising Champions." Proud papa Gordy Gronkowski Sr. is with us now, along with Dan and Gordie Jr. Welcome to you all. Thank you all so much for joining us.
GORDY GRONKOWSKI SR.: Well, thank you for having us.
DAN GRONKOWSKI: Yes, thanks for having us.
GORDIE GRONKOWSKI JR.: We really appreciate it.
MARTIN: So Dad, I'm going to start with you, as you might imagine. When you started having boys, was it always your plan that they would play some kind of sport?
GRONKOWSKI SR: I always loved the sports. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school and that. Yeah, I got my kids into sports, when they were at a young age they were playing baseball and they were playing hockey. If they didn't want to play, I would have never forced it on them. Did I encourage them to play sports? Yes, I could say yes, I definitely encouraged them to play sports.
MARTIN: So Gordie Jr. let's go to you next, as the oldest brother in the family. First of all, is Dad giving me the straight scoop - that he didn't press you all to go into sports?
GRONKOWSKI JR: Yeah, absolutely. Our parents gave us an opportunity to play sports but never really forced us to play. I actually - when I turned 11, decided, you know, I just didn't like playing baseball the year before and, you know, I didn't want to play. And they actually said, hey, if you didn't want to play, take the year off, you know, go enjoy time with your friends. And then I realized how much I actually missed it when I was 11 years old.
So then I went back and played when I was 12 and I missed being around the guys on the team and the camaraderie and just being out there having a good time with those guys. So it actually taught me a lesson and it was good to actually take a year off, because I realized how much I really did miss it.
MARTIN: Was baseball always your love or were you torn between baseball and football?
GRONKOWSKI JR: Well, it's funny because growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., we played three or four different sports throughout the year. It's not like you're in Florida and you just pick, you know, baseball year-round or football year-round. I played hockey, basketball, and baseball. And being the oldest, I was actually the only one who went to two Little League World Series - which is actually an incredible accomplishment when I was 12 and 15 years old.
There was only 12 guys on the team and, you know, I played baseball, you know, growing up my whole life so I figured I had a great opportunity to move on. And with the help of my younger brothers, especially Danny being two years younger than me and being a little bit taller, and he started working out before me. He was playing on all my varsity teams and all my all-star teams, so it was pretty incredible to see my younger brother playing all those sports with me.
So he really pushed me to become a better person and to get into the weight room, get stronger, get quicker, and when I saw that he wanted to do something and go play Division I football, you know, it kind of pushed me to become better. So without my four younger brothers, we were so competitive, I might not even have left Buffalo and picked a sport. They really helped me to get where I am today.
MARTIN: Dan, going to you. You are the first one in the family to make it to the NFL. A tight end with the Cleveland Browns, congratulations.
DAN GRONKOWSKI: Thank you.
MARTIN: People talk about - there's talent and then there's work ethic. And when it comes to all of you it's - work ethic is the word that people always talk about with everybody in your family. So where does it come from?
DAN GRONKOWSKI: The guys that have that drive, that work ethic, make it farther and farther. I don't know how we developed it, I think it's all the fighting and competition in our house, and just having fun with it. It kind of just - the formula just kind of got engraved in us.
MARTIN: Dad, what do you think about that? Where does it come from?
GRONKOWSKI SR: When I brought them up it was a couple of things. One of the major things - if they started something, they couldn't quit until it was finished. So even -like a couple times they had some coaches that they really didn't like but I said, hey, bottom line is this is the type of people you're going to meet in life and you're going to have to learn how to deal with it. And to me winning is everything and their mother always, you know, said to me, you know, can't you just play just to enjoy it.
And I said yeah, I do enjoy it, but I enjoy it a lot more when we win. I don't know if it rolled off, if it was just in the genes or what, but it seems like all my kids picked up on that and I stepped back and I just watched those guys go at it. And they just motivated each other and are so tight, you know, they might get in a fight, I mean, I broke up a fight four weeks ago with two of them, and that but...
MARTIN: ...Which two? Are you going to admit and tell me which two?
GRONKOWSKI SR: The two aren't here right now.
MARTIN: Oh, OK, we'll just put it that way.
GRONKOWSKI SR: But yeah, but it was just so funny but a half hour later they're back together again, you know. And they're friends again and, you know, they love each other and that. And it's so - I'm not going to take credit for it 'cause it just molded itself.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the new memoir "Growing up Gronk: A Family's Story of Raising Champions." We're speaking with Dad Gordy, and his sons Dan and Gordie Jr. I understand that the refrigerator played a prominent role in your lives, growing up. Dad, you know I've got to ask you, how much was the weekly food bill when you had all the boys at home?
GRONKOWSKI SR: It was crazy. I'll tell you right now, I'm saving a lot of money right now. But it was about $500, $600 a week...
MARTIN: A week?
GRONKOWSKI SR: ...They went through about - yeah, they went through about two to three gallons of milk a day.
MARTIN: How many eggs?
GRONKOWSKI SR: There was a lot of eggs, but it's funny in our house, you know, 'cause like when you're out to dinner and then there's like that last piece of pizza and everybody just looks at each other 'cause they know they want it, but in our house, they don't look at each other they just go. It was funny 'cause I worked late every day.
Usually, I came home like an hour or two later and then their mother put a meal away for me, and that. And then she would - I'd go home and go get it and it was gone, somebody sniped my meal. So yeah, it was always, you know, it was like an empty pit, they just kept on eating.
MARTIN: On a serious note, though, I have to ask you - and I want to ask all of you about this - the subject of injuries is a major subject of discussion right now in sports, but particularly in football. And Dad, I have to ask you, do you worry?
GRONKOWSKI SR: Yeah, you definitely worry about it. It's my major thing. And I tell you the truth, I relax more once Sunday's over and I realize they all got through it healthy. 'Cause I always make at least one game a week, and I can sit down and watch the other games on Monday, and I can just sit back 'cause I know they're healthy and I know they made it through, and I can sit back and actually enjoy the game then.
MARTIN: Gordie Jr., can I ask you the same question, 'cause you've made it through now. You played pro baseball but you've completed that part of your life. You decided to end your professional baseball career when you were 28 and now you're running a fitness studio organization. Do you worry about your brothers?
GRONKOWSKI JR: I actually went through the same process as Rob did. I actually was the first one to have back surgery after my freshman All-American year in college. So we've actually had the same surgery. I know what it takes to, you know, come back from that.
You have to be really, really mentally strong. Dan went through it. Chris got injured and blew out his pec two years ago with the Indianapolis Colts. It's a tough process but we are here to support each other. You relieve a lot of pain once the surgery is over, and then we're so excited to get back on the field so we work even harder.
MARTIN: OK, Dan I'm not going to ask you, because you're still in the middle of it but what about your mom? I mean, she does not figure very prominently in this book, although let's give her her propers, you wouldn't be here without her. Doesn't she worry?
GRONKOWSKI JR: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, she's a very great mother. She would make all our meals and just have them sitting out on the table and we'd all walk in. Just feed all of us animals, basically, and all our friends that would come over every day. We had the house that everyone wanted to just come and hang out at.
MARTIN: So in other words she's a saint?
GRONKOWSKI JR: Yeah, I'm sure she worries a lot too. It's - she really didn't even want us to get into football because we did excel at a bunch of other sports when we were younger and we decided to play football going into high school, and kind of scared her a little. And I'm sure it does to this day.
MARTIN: Dad, I'm going to press you on this question. The concern now, that a lot of people have, is that the injuries don't end when the surgery is over. There can be lifelong repercussions. I know you were injured actually in college. I think we kind of skipped past that part of it. Concussions, I mean, we're talking about people who are concerned that they might be impaired in their fifties, that they might be facing, you know, early onset Alzheimer's or dementia or other cognitive impairments at the point which their young kids are just going to be growing up. And I just wonder if - and I apologize if it's too personal, but what kinds of conversations are you all having as a family about this - or are you?
GRONKOWSKI SR: We do talk about it and that's why, you know, especially with someone like Rob, who just came off of five surgeries this year, it's always a concern when you get older and I tell them, you know, you're going to know when it's time.
When you're not - your body's in more pain and you can't enjoy the game anymore, you know it's time to walk away. But as of right now, you know, like Gordie, I mean, he walked away last year for - you know, he played six years and he just walked away from it and he sort of realized that, you know, that he wasn't going to go anymore and he wasn't going to go any farther and it was time to move on with his life.
MARTIN: What's the best thing about having all of your brothers involved in sports? I don't know who wants to answer that.
GRONKOWSKI JR: Go ahead, Dan.
DAN GRONKOWSKI: Well, like I said, just growing up. I mean, the competitive mental aspects that we've gained growing up but now we're all - we're all best friends. So I think the best thing is just the support we give each other. If I had a brother that didn't play sports, who wasn't in the NFL, he'd have no idea what I was talking about, but I'm able to open up with them and talk about the serious things and get through them together. So I think that's definitely a positive.
MARTIN: Gordie Jr...
GRONKOWSKI JR: ...What was the question again?
MARTIN: ...Yeah, is there anything you don't like about having all your brothers in sports? Maybe sometimes you'd rather talk about - I don't know, poetry?
GRONKOWSKI JR: No, it's incredible. It would be awkward actually if one of them didn't play any sports, 'cause that's all we pretty much did our whole life, you know, we did it together. You know, how many people could actually get a game of basketball going in five minutes at their house. There's not many people who could actually do that, you know. So we pretty much had our own sports team, and whatever sport we felt like playing that day, you know, we would just grab each other and go do it.
MARTIN: So Dad, finally, I have to ask you about the youngest Gronk, Glenn. He's now playing D-1 football at Kansas State. How did he get the name "Goose," by the way, the nickname?
GRONKOWSKI SR: We're all trying to figure that one out. No one knows the answer.
GRONKOWSKI JR: Yeah, actually, I think I do know it.
MARTIN: Let's hear it.
GRONKOWSKI JR: It's Gordie Jr. I believe my mom was reading a book to him when he was younger, it came up something about Mother Goose. Glenn actually called my mom Mother Goose, so she started calling him Goose. And it sounded good, so everyone just kept going with it.
MARTIN: It is pretty good.
GRONKOWSKI JR: And since then, we have actually called him Goose his whole life, which - it's actually a pretty cool name, and I'm glad it kind of stuck with him still in college, 'cause I was wondering if it was going to fade off, or not, once he left home.
MARTIN: I've got to admit, that is a good one. But Dad, what about him? he's kind of bringing up the rear here, unless you've got some surprise waiting for us that we don't know about. That was a joke, I'm sorry.
MARTIN: So on the one hand, he's got this great legacy. On the other hand, you ever worry there's a lot of pressure on the kid?
GRONKOWSKI SR: I think there's a little pressure on him to perform, and he is doing a great job. He's going to be the starting fullback this year at Kansas State. And he's only a redshirt freshman and he is very talented too. So - and I think he is feeling the effects a little bit of his brothers on him, 'cause all the eyes are on him now.
MARTIN: The other thing that people are impressed with is the fact that you all do seem to be very close. You all seem to be supportive of each other. I mean, I'm sure it must be tough on game days if you're playing each other.
GRONKOWSKI SR: Truthfully, I don't think it's tough if you see them. Michel, this is their dad. They're in the middle of the field before pregame giving each other, you know, in their faces giving - each brother is in their face and, you know, giving them some smack down, telling him what he's going to do to them that game. They all wish on special teams that they'd lineup against each other, 'cause they want to deck each other. So I think they look forward to playing each other.
MARTIN: OK, see, that's a dad, not a mom. OK, I'm just telling you. Before we go, what's some advice from each of you. Dan, do you want to start?
DAN GRONKOWSKI: Training when you're younger is one of the big things. Getting your kid to work out and really develop their body the right way when they're in middle school and through high school, so you can perform and not hurt yourself. I think that's a key and not many people know how to do that so you got to do a lot of research and find the right people to train with.
MARTIN: Gordie Jr., what about you?
GRONKOWSKI JR: Surround yourself with good people. You know, you can go down a dark aisle and they'll be there for you. I usually live by the three P's - and that's practice hard, be prepared physically and mentally, and play hard.
You know, so those are the three things I kind of live by my whole life. The biggest thing is be prepared mentally. It's really an incredible thing. A lot of people can be so talented and have so much skill and you wonder why they can't make it to the next level like we have. And a lot of it has to do with the mental side of the game. So those are the three - you know, the main three things that I kind of live by.
MARTIN: Gordy Sr. - Gordy - Dad, what about you? And can I ask you one more question before we close out, which is that - what's the secret to making sure your kids maximize their potential but not taking it too far to where it's about you and not them?
GRONKOWSKI SR: Yeah, definitely, Michel, that's exactly where I was going to go, too. Bottom line is, when I brought my kids up and I coached my kids - and I coached all of them, at one point in time - and that - I made it fun for them. I wasn't the dad that if they had a bad game, you're in their face and that. I would talk to them about it and if they wanted to, talk to them about it. We drove home in a car and if they said something, hey, I played terrible today and I would just say, yeah, you did, you know; but if they didn't say anything, I didn't say anything, and that.
And if I saw that they were - something was lacking, then I'd just say, hey, you know, you're doing this or doing that, let's work on it if you want to, and if not, then that was fine too. But what I wanted to have my kids experience when they were smaller - to have fun and enjoy sports. These wacky dads, they have no idea what they're doing. They're screaming at their kids and they're just going off the wall, off the charts, and what it does it turns the kid off from sports. It doesn't help them.
He's a young kid, he's developing - they think that's going to put all this mental toughness in him, that's not how you do mental toughness at all - by screaming at them when they're 10 years old. They don't understand. So my biggest thing is, you know, let your kids be kids and let them enjoy sports and then once they get older - like I started when my kids were eighth grade - I sat them down and I started explaining to them, hey, you got a little more talent than anybody else, if you want to go down this path, you know, this is what you got to start doing, and you've got to have the dedication, you know, and definitely you have to have the passion.
When Danny took hold of it it was great, because it was like a virus in my family and everybody caught onto it and it just motivated each other. I just stepped back and it was the greatest thing to watch. It really was as a father, to see my five sons just take over and just motivate each other. It wasn't me in their faces, it was the sons in each other's face. And I also told my kids - with karma too, don't do things that you don't want done, 'cause karma's tough and it's going to bite you three to one ratio back to you. So just do it the right way and do everything the right way and everything will fall into place.
MARTIN: Gordy Gronkowski is the father of five sons. Gordie Jr. is also with us. He's the eldest; he's a retired professional baseball player who was drafted by the Angels. He's now running G & G Fitness stores in Ohio. Dan Grankowski is next up. He's a tight end with the Cleveland Browns. They were both with us today from member station WBFO in Buffalo, N.Y.
Little brothers Chris and Rob are also playing in the NFL, for the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots. And younger brother Glenn - Goose - is playing college football for Kansas State. They've all put the book "Growing up Gronk" together - a family's story of raising champions. Thank you all so much for joining us.
DAN GRONKOWSKI: Thank you, we had a good time.
GRONKOWSKI JR: Thank you.
GRONKOWSKI SR: Yeah, thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.