TAMPA, Fla. — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski believe that not only is it time to advance the conversation about social injustice in America — it’s time to come together and heal.
Like so many who have been affected by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the protests that followed, they wrestled with, “What do we do next? What can we do to help?”
So O’Neal and Gronkowski have turned what they hoped would have been a real-life party into a three-hour virtual fundraiser, with all proceeds going to NAACP Empowerment Programs and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The event, Shaq’s Fun House vs. Gronk Beach virtual party — which pays homage to their annual Super Bowl parties — will take place June 27 at 8 p.m. ET. It will include musical performances from Snoop Dogg, DaBaby, Steve Aoki, Diplo and Carnage. O’Neal will also make an appearance as DJ Diesel. It will be livestreamed free on ShaqvsGronk.com and simulcast across more than 20 other platforms, including LiveXLive, Facebook, Twitch, YouTube and Twitter.
“We want to be sensitive to people. That’s why we wanted [it] to be labeled as ‘Party with a Purpose,'” said O’Neal, a four-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star. “We just want to bring a little joy. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and we are aware of that, and we hope to do our part. We’re gonna continue to do our part.”
In addition to musical performances, the event will feature O’Neal and Gronkowski competing in a series of challenges including a lip-sync battle, a game of HORSE, jousting and a chicken-wing-eating contest.
Each time O’Neal wins, a donation will be made to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. When Gronkowski wins, a donation goes to the NAACP Empowerment Programs.
The event’s partner, DoorDash, has pledged to donate one meal for every viewer who livestreams the event — up to 1.25 million meals — through its partnership with Feeding America. Fans will also be able to show off their dance moves with The General’s Fan Cam.
“We wanted to do it now with a purpose, and this is a purpose to raise money for great causes and to raise money for everything that’s going on out there,” said Gronkowski, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots. “So music, sports, competitions — we just knew that it was a win-win. And on top of it, whenever Shaq and I have the chance to come together and bring other people together — ’cause that’s what we love to do, is bring everyone together, unite everyone together — we just knew it was a no-brainer to do.”
Both O’Neal and Gronkowski said they recognize that this is merely one step, and it will take work on everyone’s part to eradicate racism. But they are committed to doing their part.
For Gronkowski, that will mean having important discussions with his new Buccaneers teammates, as many NFL teams are doing right now.
“I’m sure that I’ll be participating in those conversations. Because it’s around me; it’s part of my life every single day,” said Gronkowski, who joined the Bucs in an April trade. “And I have absolutely no problem participating in those conversations. So when that comes about, I’ll be ready to hear the voices and understand everything that’s going on from my teammates and others in the organization. So I’ll be very open to that when it’s that time and when I get to see my fellow teammates.”
For the NBA — which has detailed a plan to resume play during the coronavirus pandemic — one conversation among players is about not wanting to be a distraction from the issues at hand. Is it possible to advance the conversation while playing every night? And are players comfortable being away from their families at a time when difficult conversations are being had with children about racism?
“I’m proud of all the guys that are bringing awareness to the situation,” O’Neal said. “Now that awareness is brought, we have to hand it off to the people that can get laws changed, to the senators, to Republicans and the Democrats, to mayors, congressmen — they have to do something. It’s been going on for far too long. The country has done a beautiful job of coming together to bring a lot of awareness.
“I’m 48 years old. I haven’t seen the country unite like this to bring awareness to the issue. But now that the awareness is brought, the people that can make changes — the lawmakers — are the ones that are gonna have to get it done.”