“That was a football game,” said tight end Antonio Gates. “This is the game of life.”
On the heels of an embarrassing loss to the Carolina Panthers, tucking his tail and laying low would have been an understandable reaction for the Pro-Bowler. Focusing on his record-tying touchdown catch with Chargers’ Hall Of Famer Lance Alworth also would have been understandable.
Instead, Gates and several of his teammates turned their attention outward, towards the community they, along with the rest of their team, has let down with missed opportunities and yet another season without a playoff appearance.
The Shop With A Jock event started 18 years ago when another legendary Charger decided he wanted to give back to the city and people he loved.
The late Junior Seau started the event by finding San Diego children in need, giving them a gift card, and pairing them with a college or professional athlete to shop for the evening.
This year, his former teammates and athletic community continued the tradition. They held two Shop With A Jock events. The second and last was Monday night at the Murphy Canyon Wal-Mart.
Along with Gates, teammates Antonio Garay, Robert Meachem, Le’Ron McClain, Darrell Stuckey, Rex Hadnot, and more were each paired with a group of children and sent out with a gift card and their wish lists.
For Gates, he saw a bit of himself in the kids.
“I was a kid who didn’t have much,” Gates said. “I grew up in an inner city home where things were rough and you had to overcome adversity but yet I still had the chance to make it out. So I just try to share with them and then just interact with them.”
And interact they did.
From crossing things off a child’s list, to chasing down store managers in hunt of the perfect toy, Gates and his teammates made sure every child left with new toys and memories. In exchange, they left feeling like the sting of a searing loss had lessened just a little.
“I get the chance to feel good about what I’m doing today,” Gates said. “And be with these kids and give them words of encouragement and just give them hope. When you become a professional athlete you always want to feel like you’ve made your mark outside of playing sports.”
Because when asked what he thought the kids were more excited for, the presents or hanging out with him, Gates summed it up honestly.
“They’re probably more excited about getting some presents right now,” Gates said with an ironic tone. “The way we’ve been playing.”
Even still, Gates said the event made it easier to look forward and move past the disheartening loss.
“Being able to change a child’s life with a $12 gift or a $40 gift,” Gates said. “To me there’s no words that can really describe how that makes me feel as a person so that’s why I’m here.”
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