MIGHTY 25: George Kittle uses his NFL platform to serve the military community

Jessica Manfre
Nov 1, 2023 9:00 AM PDT
6 minute read
Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals embraces George Kittle.

Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals embraces George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers after the game at Levi’s Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

SUMMARY

George Kittle may be a world-renowned tight end, but it’s those who raise their right hand to serve and their families inspiring him.

George Kittle may be a world-renowned tight end for the San Francisco 49ers but it’s those who raise their right hand to serve and their families inspiring him, every single day.

“I grew up in an awesome family with an awesome big sister and two loving parents. I never once had to question how much I was loved by my parents and my family around me. So, I grew up in a very awesome space,” Kittle shared. “From as early as I can remember my goal in life was to be a professional football player because I always thought that NFL players were superheroes and I wanted to be a superhero one day.” 

The Wisconsin native raised in Iowa grew up in an extremely patriotic family. His Uncle Pat, an Army National Guard veteran, was an inspiring influence in his life with his continuous commitment to give back to the military community. 

“There are multiple members of my family who are in the military. One, being the most important to me, was my uncle Pat on my mom’s side of the family. Pat served in the National Guard and he did three tours,” Kittle explained. “Growing up, we lived close to my cousins and we hung out with them all the time. He had this joyous energy and loved being around us. He would barbecue, make jokes, chase us around, organize wiffle ball games for us; he was just the best. On the days he wasn’t there because he was overseas, I could tell how much that affected the family and how big of a deal it was. That is one of the main reasons why I try my best to support the military in every way I possibly can because I had an opportunity to see how hard it is on those families when their family members are deployed and away.”

Kittle played for the University of Iowa, his father’s old stomping grounds. By 2017 he was being drafted into the NFL to play for the San Francisco 49ers. A year later, he began working alongside organizations dedicated to the military community. 

“For My Cause My Cleats, I always try to highlight an organization that supports the military and their families. I started out with TAPS after my first Pro Bowl in 2018 and we did a bunch of things with them at the Pro Bowl. It made me realize how awesome of an organization it is and how much help they really provide for these families,” he shared. “I was also able to meet some families that I’m still in contact with today and that just means so much to me.”

Kittle has made the commitment of giving back to those who serve a family affair.

“Merging Vets and Players is an organization that I’ve worked with along with my family podcast, The Hidden Pearls. My dad is really involved with them too; he calls them once or twice a month and talks to vets, former and current players. I have friends and family who have played professional sports or been in the military that are now no longer doing that and have trouble adjusting once they’re done serving or playing,” he said. “While I’m not going to say that serving in the military is similar to playing football, not doing what you love anymore I think has similar effects on people. Being able to talk to someone about those feelings, emotions and stressors in your life, you find that that might be similar to what someone else is going through and seeing that point of view can be really helpful to people.”

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Levi's Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

Kittle has also become involved with the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“I think it’s an incredible story for Pat Tillman, someone who left the NFL to go serve and then tragically lost his life. It just speaks volumes to the type of person that he was and so the organization itself is going out and helping military members. I just wanted to be a part of it as best as I possibly could,” he added. 

Doing what he can for Gold Star Families has been a big part of Kittle’s life since becoming an NFL football player. 

“I was able to meet the LaMar family back in 2020 when I had the opportunity to give them Super Bowl tickets and then I was able to see them at functions through the team over the last couple of years,” he said. “Being able to see them yearly to catch up with them and connect with them, it always means a lot to me. Especially knowing what they went through losing their dad and still being fantastic people, still looking at each day with opportunity. Having to go through a loss as big as that one and still striving to be great every single day, that’s what I find truly inspiring and I’m thankful to have them in my life.” 

Four years ago, Kittle and his family started The Hidden Pearls podcast.

“The Hidden Pearls podcast was started by my sister, my dad and myself a couple of years ago; I think we’re on season four now. It’s called Hidden Pearls because when we originally started the podcast, we were trying to find hidden pearls all across America, like foundations, businesses and organizations that do their best to help their communities or those in need, so it was just about finding those hidden pearls everywhere,” he explained. The first season we interviewed foundations throughout the country based on our NFL schedule. Wherever we were going, we would interview that person and then interview a player and have them talk about their favorite foundation in their community and then donate money to those organizations. We really were just trying to bring light to these different organizations that are trying to help so many people that might not have the platforms to raise the money and get the help that they need. That was the key to the podcast and that’s what we continue to try our best to do.” 

In 2019, Kittle was recognized with the 49ers Len Eshmont Award, which is voted on by the players and is given to the 49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team. In 2021 and 2022 he was nominated for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA, and was just announced as a finalist for 2023, as well. Returning this year, fans have an opportunity to vote for their favorite nominee to help determine the award’s three finalists. To see all the nominees and vote, visit NFL.com/SaluteFanVote from now until November 30. One vote per day, per fan is permitted.

“It’s always nice to be nominated and recognized for these types of awards. All I really want to do is continue helping those that this award represents and bring attention to the things that they need to help make their lives a little bit better,” Kittle said. 

As he reflects on his career and life, Kittle said he feels blessed. He had some advice for people looking to pursue dreams others may find unobtainable, kind of like becoming a NFL player. 

“I like to live life. I enjoy living life. I think I’d say just try to be grateful and incredibly appreciative of every single day that you wake up and to enjoy it with those around you. Never hold onto grudges or anger for too long because life can be way too much fun to hold onto those things. In regard to pursuing your dreams, whatever you want to do, every decision that you make, make sure it’s going towards that goal. When you make a bunch of decisions that are all toward the same goal, you’ll find yourself one step closer to that goal every single day,” Kittle shared. “A quote that my dad always read to me and that I read to myself all the time is, ‘Small, consistent steps in the right direction lead to great results.’ So just stepping in the right direction, no matter how big or small that step is, doing it one step at a time, you’ll eventually get there. It’s just like climbing a mountain.”

Kittle had a simple message for the military community:

“To all the military and service members, thank you so much for every single thing that you do. I would not be doing what I want to do and living out my dreams if it wasn’t for you guys and what you do every single day and what your families sacrifice every single day, so thank you,” he said.

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