If you haven’t already heard of “Baby Gronk,” congratulations, you’re normal. Reading on will disturb your peace. Proceed with caution.
Baby Gronk is a 10-year-old football prodigy whose real name is Madden San Miguel. TikToker @h00pify posted a video about him on March 17, which later went viral in June because the content of the video (Livvy rizzed up Baby Gronk!) was impossible to decipher without a good amount of brain worms and a solid understanding of children’s sports influencers.
The epic highs and lows of competitive youth sports are an entirely different can of worms, but I need you all to know that these kids have stage parents with an intensity we haven’t seen since “Dance Moms.” Raising a prolific child athlete requires talent, money, and aggressive parenting to strong-arm them into the spotlight and create buzz for a future collegiate athlete’s career nearly a decade away. It’s a uniquely toxic child star situation.
But one thing is for sure — I am afraid of Baby Gronk’s social media manager dad, Jake San Miguel, who has made it abundantly clear that he’s out for internet fame. He seems to have bypassed the discourse about influencers not using their children for clout and created an empire on the back of his elementary-aged son.
Just last week, Baby Gronk “announced his retirement” from football, only to “return” less than a week later. It’s all a ploy for engagement, and it’s working — his following is growing, forcing reluctant civilians like myself to learn who this young man is.
NFL legend Rob Gronkowski, whose name San Miguel commandeered for his son, says the dad has gone “too far” and he’s going to “cease and desist” him.
“Yeah, it’s to a point where it’s awkward. It’s too far,” Gronkowski said on the Barstool Sports podcast “Bussin’ with the Boys.” “Four weeks ago, my brother told me, ‘Yo, have you seen Baby Gronk?’ ‘Did I see him?‘ I go. ‘His dad hit me up 500 times already.’ He goes, ‘Don’t do anything.’ The dad is so annoying.’”
I wish I had more hope for Baby Gronk. His football prowess seems to mostly stem from the fact he’s bigger than the other kids he’s playing against, and nobody around him has hit puberty yet. I fear that having the sports equivalent of a stage dad hungry for social media stardom will put so much pressure on him that he actually quits football to game.
But will his dad even give him a choice? Will the internet stop rewarding him for his ridiculous posts meant to generate outrage? Baby Gronk’s dad might have been the force that pushed this child into the internet culture machine, but the machine is to blame for much of what is happening to him.
Viral kids have very little stake in the money and clout that they generate. A few, like the disaster meme girl and the kid from the “Charlie Bit My Finger” video, managed to scrounge up about $500,000 each from NFTs, but those aren’t really a thing anymore. Some children, like the Popeyes boy and the Cash Me Outside girl, were able to capitalize on their viral fame as adults. But it’s very rare for young people actually to benefit from the fame has warped their childhoods.
I hope Baby Gronk will either become the next JoJo Siwa, a survivor of child social media stardom whose past informs his experience online or that he’ll just log off entirely and do his thing.