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My Cause My Cleats

Tonyan supporting local cause in first year back home


For Bears tight end Robert Tonyan, returning to the Chicagoland area this past year fulfilled more than just his childhood dream of playing for the team he grew up idolizing. Being back home reenergized the McHenry native and provided some inspiration for the cause he's supporting as part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats campaign.

This year marks Tonyan's sixth year in the league, but it's the first season he's participated in the annual league-wide initiative, which allows players to showcase causes that are important to them through custom cleats.

Tonyan choose to represent GiGi's Playhouse, a group of Down Syndrome Achievement Centers. The charitable organization was founded in Hoffman Estates in 2003 but has since spread across the United States and Mexico with 58 brick-and-mortar locations.

His connection to the organization, specifically the location in his hometown, dates back to his high school football career. One of his teammate's moms was heavily involved at GiGi's Playhouse in McHenry, so each summer the football team would host field days or community service activities with the kids.

Those moments created memories that Tonyan still holds close. Once he saw the sign-up come around for My Cause My Cleats, he felt compelled to resurface his support for the organization.

"I just truly believe in giving kids an opportunity just to be active or just doing activities, just keeping their spirits high," Tonyan said. "They are the most genuine, real, loving people to be around and for them to get an opportunity to be a part of something, be a part of a group, be a part of their team, it's just fun. They get to do activities in the summertime, get out. They just idolize so many great people. Hopefully I get the chance to go back this summer. I haven't been back in forever, but I just thought, 'this is just a great opportunity to promote them and spread awareness.'"

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While Tonyan didn't know it at the time, that joy of working with the children of GiGi's Playhouse in high school would trickle into his studies at Indiana State. As part of being a physical education major, Tonyan spent time learning about special education and during his student-teaching experience, he worked in blind and deaf institutes.

Tonyan said those "eye-opening" experiences taught him so much and allowed him to "grow in that world" while gaining new perspectives on his own life. He furthered that knowledge by also working with Special Olympics each summer in college.

"At Indiana State, they hosted a Special Olympics every year in the summertime," Tonyan said. "We always volunteered there. They are literally the most genuine people ever. They're the best. They have so much good energy, they're so honest, and they're so grateful to be around. They're so grateful for life itself. Just gratitude for life is what I got out of it."

Finding ways to connect back with the community as an NFL player has become an even larger part of Tonyan's life as he gets deeper into his career. With the repetitive grind that an NFL season warrants, Tonyan believes those moments of community service are rejuvenating for not only the people impacted, but for himself as it reminds him "OK, this is why you do this."

Using the My Cause My Cleats initiative as another way to stay involved with the community, Tonyan is proud to represent GiGi's Playhouse and continue spreading awareness for their special mission. Amplifying a local organization in a place that has welcomed him back this season with open arms has turned into a full-circle moment for the Bears tight end.

"Just being back, it's just nice in general being around, whether it's going to high school games or whatever," Tonyan said, "and just showing face and using this opportunity to motivate people from my area to do the same and be a role model in any sense. Not only for My Cause My Cleats, but just in general, being in the community, just being around, being a normal person. It's very beneficial being back for me and for others. it's definitely warming. I feel really at home, I feel comfortable, and it's just nice being around people who do support me, who have supported me for years."

A record number of Bears players, coaches and staff sported special footwear for the team's My Cause My Cleats game Dec. 10th against the Lions. Take an exclusive look at the custom spikes, which were created to support a charitable organization of each person's choice, as well as some of the players posting with their cleats.