The night before a pivotal game against the New York Jets, each member of the New York Giants signed a poker chip.
The act signified the players were “All In”—willing to give their best when they stepped onto the football field.
They made that commitment after listening to Gian Paul Gonzalez, a ninth-grade history teacher from Union City, N.J., and honored the pledge as they went on a playoff run that culminated in defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
“All In” is a philosophy Gonzalez has been following for years. For him, it’s a lifestyle choice—a personal commitment—that he embodies every day in the actions he takes and decisions he makes.
“It’s not a T-shirt, a wristband, or two words at the end of a TV commercial,” says Gonzalez, who spoke at the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council Conference.
“It’s a scary commitment,” he continues. “It’s not guaranteed. And at the end of the day, it’s us looking in the mirror and asking ourselves what we can do to change the culture.”
Since that speech to the New York Giants the night before Christmas Eve in 2011, Gonzalez has spoken to numerous other groups—including other professional sports teams, the FBI, and military. While “All In” is a new concept for others, Gonzalez has adhered to that belief for most of his life.
He has learned about:
Failure. Gonzalez played basketball in high school, and if the team lost a home game, he would skip school the following day because he feared being ridiculed by other students.
His mentality changed after a history teacher told him he would never win at life if he was scared to lose. The teacher pointed to Abraham Lincoln, who lost eight elections but is remembered as one of the greatest presidents.
“It’s the failures along the way that determine whether you’re committed or not,” Gonzalez says. “It’s easy to be ‘All In’ when you’re winning, but it’s after the failures and tough times when we need to be ‘All In.’”
Impact. After starring as an NCAA Division III All-American at Montclair State in New Jersey, Gonzalez played in the NBA Summer League and had the chance to sign an NBA contract.
Instead, he opted to become a public school teacher in New Jersey. The reason? He wanted to make a difference with the kids in the schools where he grew up. He also raised funds to construct the first youth center in his town as an alternative to joining gangs. The center opened with 20 kids and a year later has 800 members.
Gonzalez compares his motivations to credit unions’ work on behalf of their members.
“You want to help people,” he says. “They’re people to you. They’re not a number.”
Dreams. While getting his teaching certificate, Gonzalez worked with youth in juvenile detention centers—not only by teaching them, but also playing basketball.
The reversible jerseys the players wore had the word “hope” on one side and “future” on the other side. That sent the kids the message that they were capable of excelling and reaching their dreams—and if they have hope, they can have a future.
“No matter how bad today is, it can only get better tomorrow,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez will address the CUNA CEO Council Conference in October.
►Visit CUNA News for more conference coverage, and get live updates on Twitter via @CUNAJennifer, @cumagazine, @cunacouncils, and by using the #HRODcouncil hashtag. Learn more about the CUNA HR & Organizational Development Council, a member-led professional society for credit union executives, at cunacouncils.org.