This piece originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on December 23, 2018.
Have you seen the “Dear Kyle” video? It’s a real tearjerker. You won’t find it on Netflix. But you may have seen it online.
I’m referring to the video about Kyle Rudolph, the tight end nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for the second year (https://www.vikings.com/video/ kyle-rudolph-man-of-the-year- dear-kyle).
Established in 1970, the prestigious legacy award is given to a professional football player who impacts lives on and off the field. A generous gift to his charity of choice accompanies the award.
The video is a great story in itself. Expecting to be interviewed, Kyle walks into a room and sits down on a stool in front of a high-top table bearing a folder filled with letters.
With a baseball cap obscuring his eyes, he opens the folder and begins to read.
Quite unexpectedly, he discovers the letters are filled with gratitude for big and small gestures he’s extended to strangers enduring the heartache none of us wants to experience – watching our kids suffer, battle illnesses, and, occasionally, succumb to them.
It’s not long before the man who didn’t cry when he married or became the father of twin girls is wiping away the tears.
“Dear Kyle” includes pictures, video and voice-overs by authors of the letters.
It’s packed with emotion and life lessons.
None of it’s about Kyle’s yardage or touchdowns.
All of it’s about his generosity, compassion and kindness.
It’s about texts and visits from number 82 and how they meant so much to kids whose lives were affected by a disability or disrupted by an illness.
It’s about showing up for a young boy who couldn’t find his way to the end zone after undergoing a bone marrow transplant for a rare disease.
It’s about making the effort to stop by a hospital room to offer encouragement to another parent of twins.
The value and importance of giving back and helping sick kids was instilled long before Kyle and his wife, Jordan, moved to Minnesota. Both volunteered in college, raising money for cancer and supporting kids with special needs. Their commitment meshes well with the culture of philanthropy at the Vikings organization, Kyle says.
The couple casts a wide net with their giving, serving on boards, supporting Kyle’s teammates’ philanthropy, participating in domestic hearing missions with Starkey Hearing Foundation, supporting our military, the American Cancer Society, and Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank.
Most of all, they support the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where they often spend Kyle’s only day off during the football season.
The commitment to help sick kids is personal. When Kyle was 15 months old his newborn brother was diagnosed with a rare cancer. His parents were often away from home as their younger son successfully battled neuroblastoma.
Though it took a toll on the family, the experience bred empathy and a desire to help other families. Nearly 30 years later, Kyle believes it’s more satisfying to give than receive – off the field. He has the opportunity, the platform, and the means to make a significant impact and, along with Jordan, he’s doing so.
It was their donation that funded the Kyle Rudolph End Zone, a space where Masonic Children’s Hospital patients and families can forget about IVs, blood draws, and surgeries for a little while. Kids and adults can step into an alternate reality and play video games, shoot hoops, or cook in the community kitchen.
With the help of other sponsors they also host a unique event befitting a redheaded man with the last name of Rudolph. For the past three Decembers they’ve whisked sick kids away from the hospital, escorted them onto an airplane, and headed to “the North Pole.”
While there, kids can dance, play games, and experience the joy of the season with Santa and his elves.
Christmas is upon us. While generosity and gratitude can’t be purchased or wrapped in shiny paper and placed under the tree, they’re among the greatest and most enduring gifts we can give. We don’t always have the opportunity to experience the give and take of gratitude, where we can express our appreciation and be assured that the message was received. Hearing that you’ve made a discernible difference in another’s life is a powerful gift to be treasured.
The “Dear Kyle” video was a well-deserved gift to a man who, with his wife, is doing remarkable things to help others live their best lives. Kyle’s nomination – for the second year – is a testament to his commitment. Regardless of whether he wins the coveted award, he’s earned my respect and appreciation.
For as the mother of a child who underwent a successful bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota years before there was an End Zone, I well remember the fatigue, the fear, and the isolation that accompanied a month-long stay. With the generosity of donors like the Rudolphs, patients who have protracted hospitalizations today will have a much different experience than my family had. And that’s worthy of thanks.
Merry Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Rudy.