Twin brothers Tiki and Ronde Barber beat the odds and both made it to the NFL (Ronde plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tiki plays for the New York Giants). PW recently spoke with the duo about the picture book they co-wrote (S&S/Wiseman) about their childhood—and the early seeds of determination and family support that have helped them succeed.
PW: Why did you want to write a children's book?
It's actually a funny story. [Editor] Paula Wiseman's son is a big fan. He said to her, 'Why don't you do a story on Tiki and Ronde?' It just so happens that the idea fell right into line with the initiatives and ideals that are important to my brother and me right now, since we both have two kids. We're Literacy Champions [via a program sponsored by Verizon] in our respective towns, and this was a chance for us to move to being role models on a bigger scale.
Did you enjoy reading when you were a kid? Did you have a favorite book?
Oh, yeah. It's carried on till today. I loved science fiction and the Hardy Boys and things that would take me away from the everyday real world. I always had [a book] in my hand, whether it was required for school or just for entertainment.
I used to read all the time. I remember when I was 12 years old I read Lonesome Dove. One of my earliest memories is my mother, brother and I sitting in our living room, with the TV off and the back porch door open while music is playing and we're all reading something. One of my favorite books as a kid was The Little Engine That Could. Of course, it makes sense: we were premature babies and no one thought we would do well in sports. And we faced other racial stereotypes, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Do you consider yourself a role model for kids? If so, does that make you put a different kind of pressure on yourself?
Well that term is thrown around so loosely these days, it can pretty much mean anyone who is older than you are. I don't ever want to say that I'm helping to raise anyone else's kids or anything like that. But I try to do the right things. And if setting a positive example is being a role model, then yes. I think that's a good model for anyone.
I definitely think that I am. Most people in the public eye are role models by default. It's something I take very seriously, because I know someone is always watching what I'm doing. One of my biggest powers is influence, even over adults sometimes, and I try to [use] it in the right way. But in the same breath, I think it's important that parents take the time to be fans of whatever their kids are into, so that they will help to set an example of being supportive.
Making it to the NFL isn't easy. What do you tell kids about achieving this goal?
I don't get a chance to talk to kids as often as I'd like, but when I do talk to them, I tell them that if they have pure aspirations, they should definitely try to get there. It's easy to say that 'the numbers don't say you will make it; the odds are against you.' But I encourage kids to believe in their dreams. Kids are smart enough to know that there are only so many players who can make it. And they also know that there are other career opportunities out there even if they don't make it.
I point out the reality of the situation that most of them won't make it. But I also tell them to do as I did: find other things that you are really passionate about—music, science, school work, whatever—and find other things to excel at so that you always have a back-up. I always wanted to be an astronaut and I wanted to go to engineering school. I studied like crazy and got straight A's through high school. I didn't know I was going to play football professionally. But I didn't want to set myself up to fail; I wanted to set myself up to be successful, and it worked.
What do you hope kids will take away from your book?
If you don't know anything about us, it's pretty obvious from the book that our family is pretty tight. It was always just the three of us [Mom, Ronde, Tiki], always together. We're very big supporters of each other. This book is just a small encapsulation of our whole upbringing. I think it shows that if you persevere, you can get through anything. And that no matter what happens—good or bad—you have family behind you.
Are your own children old enough to appreciate the book? What do they think of it?
Not really. [I have a] two-year-old and a three-month-old. So they can maybe enjoy the pictures and tear out the pages, but it will be a while before they can really appreciate it. But they are the reason that it's important for us to do this book now. Kids are our priority—my brother and I both have two kids—and we want to send a positive message. I hope that when they're older they'll see this and think that their dad and uncle are good role models.
My kids are two [years old] and five months [old]. But the book will be a legacy, something they can appreciate down the line. And hopefully there will be more. I think we have a different dynamic, being athletes and being twins—we have a lot of lessons and stories we can share.