ESPN The MagazineStarting 5

Gronk’s ESPN The Magazine photo shoot proves to be the cat’s meow

ESPN The Magazine’s Interview Issue, currently on newsstands, highlights this year’s top newsmakers in sports including its cover athlete, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Kitty cameos

For the Rob Gronkowski photo shoot, ESPN The Magazine worked with Guardian Angels Cat Rescue, Inc. shelter in Wayland, Mass. to find his feline co-stars. Kim Engler, the shelter’s vice president, was on the Nov. 25 Boston shoot with Tawny, Chestnut and Sepia, the then 6-week-old offspring of Sienna.

“We are really really hoping we can help more animals as a result of [Gronk] showing his ‘softer’ side with the help of our kittens,” said Engler, who noted that Gronk was very gentle with the kittens. The shelter rescues 350-400 cats and kittens yearly. These kittens will not be eligible for adoption until after the holidays, but mother Sienna and others are ready for a new family now, Engler said.

The images inside the magazine however, are what’s making headlines. Even Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could not resist commenting about the photo shoot.

Front Row caught up with Mag contributor Stacey Pressman and senior deputy photo editor Nancy Weisman on how Gronk’s interview, cover and photo shoot came about:

Pressman: The idea was to ask Rob if he would be on the cover of the Interview Issue. He’s someone who was recovering from surgery in 2013 and was slowly making his way back in 2014. It looked like Gronk was back to his “old self,” putting up great numbers as [Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady’s go-to-guy and making spectacular one-handed catches.

We wanted to talk to him about everything he’s been through and how he was able to bounce back. We know it’s pretty difficult to get a star player on the New England Patriots to pose for a photo shoot during the season. The team runs a tight ship and they’re not looking to make any unwanted news, especially in December heading into the playoffs.

With the magazine’s pre-existing relationship with Rob [he was a featured cover of the Body Issue in 2012], we floated the idea by him and his marketing team. Rob felt healthy enough and in a good place to ask. Ultimately, everyone was on board and we shot this on his day off.

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Weisman: [Photographer] Martin Schoeller and I were brainstorming over the phone and I think he mentioned kittens. I loved the idea of kittens: the contrast of the soft, sweet and cute with this big, strong guy. We thought it would be fun to get them to cling to him and see his reaction to that. We also discussed kittens on his bicep, but that didn’t pan out.

Gronk put his trust in us once again and was open to everything we threw his way. The idea was to get some “fun” stuff with Gronk, then balance that with a serious, handsome Gronk. I wanted to show him as a handsome icon, hence the leather jacket.