Staying All In: Gian Paul Gonzalez Continues to Inspire

“All in” started as a message. And it quickly evolved into a movement.

In December of 2011, The New York Giants were a mediocre football team that needed a spark if they were going to make the playoffs. After the Giants defeated the Jets on Christmas eve, defensive lineman Justin Tuck told the media about a guest speaker at the team’s chapel service the night before who inspired the team to be “all in”—in football and in life.

That speaker was Gian Paul Gonzalez, a high school teacher in Union City, NJ and the director of the 4-One basketball outreach ministry. Gonzalez, 29, spoke to the Giants about the power of relationships and commitment and how Joseph was all in, despite the criticism and controversy surrounding the virgin birth of Jesus. He gave them all a poker chip and talked about how card players go all in to win the big pot.

Following Tuck’s press conference, the media was intrigued by the “all in” rallying cry. And the fans loved it. At the next game, “all in” towels were given out to the fans. And Gonzalez became an overnight celebrity with appearances on major networks and a segment on ESPN.

The Giants rode the momentum of the Jets victory to a Super Bowl championship. Subsequently, Gonzalez has been invited all over the country to speak to high school teams, college teams, and pro teams (he travelled with the Portland Trail Blazers for a week) and corporate giants like Wal-Mart.

Even before he became famous for “all in,” Gonzalez was inspiring people. He played college basketball at Montclair State University, where he averaged 27 points a game during his senior season and was named to the Division III All-American Team. After college, he was invited to play in a summer pro league that was sometimes a steppingstone to the National Basketball Association, but he chose to return home and become a teacher who inspires inner-city young people. “I remember writing in my journal one night that I don’t want to be a person who is seen on TV,” he told WORLD Magazine. “I want to be a person kids can see every day.”

In 2012, he was recognized by New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie’s NJ Heroes organization, which recognizes people who directly impact the lives of New Jersey’s less fortunate.

“Gian Paul is an amazing role model for the young people in Union City and for people around our state,” Christie said. “He has been a hero to many people long before I had the pleasure of naming him a New Jersey Hero.”

This fall, at a New Canaan Society meeting in Franklin Lakes, Gonzalez told a room full of men not only about being all in—but staying all in. The 6-foot-5, imposing man admitted that after following up on those who made the “all in” pledge, he noticed how the emotion of the moment had faded and some had reverted back to old ways. And even the Giants have missed the playoffs the last two years (although he joked that he hasn’t been back to speak to them since that evening in 2011).

Staying all in is about perseverance and commitment, said Gonzalez, using two men from the Bible to illustrate his point. Zacchaeus, the once-corrupt tax collector, wasn’t too dignified to climb a tree and get a glimpse of Jesus and begin a new life. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, did not give up in his single-minded pursuit of the Christ and a mighty miracle.

“Both men were relentless to find Jesus,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t give up. They said, ‘I need to find Him.’ ‘I need to see Him.’

“Jesus sees us as who we will be, not as who we are.”

Another example Gonzalez gave landed close to home. He spoke about his grandfather, a policeman and Batista loyalist inCubabefore Castro took over. Despite being held as a political prisoner, placed in a small cell, and subjected to immense brutality, the man could not be broken.

At an aquarium many years later, his grandfather told Gonzalez about the shark, the number one predator in the ocean. If the shark bites something and loses a tooth, it has four rows of teeth behind it.

When he speaks to teams or for companies, Gonzalez often gives out “all in” poker chips as an object lesson and keepsake. This time, however, he gave the men at the New Canaan Society a single shark tooth and exhorted them never to give up.

“A shark doesn’t stop being a shark because he bites the wrong thing and loses a tooth,” he said. “That doesn’t change who the shark is. The shark doesn’t give up.”

Conversely, we need to be committed and persevere, he said, even when we “make a mistake…All in is not a t-shirt–it’s a lifestyle.”

In closing, he reminded the crowd about the commitment and passion of the Lord.

“Jesus was all in for us,” he said. “That’s why we can be all in for Him.”



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