by Melissa Fales
Popular ESPN television personality Mike Greenberg is not only a trusted sports authority, a member of the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and a New York Times bestselling author, he’s also a passionate opponent of cancer. He and his wife, Stacy Steponate Greenberg recently co-wrote a children’s book, MVP: Most Valuable Puppy (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), and they are donating all of their proceeds from it to help fight pediatric cancer.
“Everything we ever make from this book will go towards cancer research, until there is a cure,” says Greenberg. “It’s very gratifying for us to be able to do something that can make a difference in this world.”
Greenberg’s inspiration to raise money for cancer research traces back to 2009 when Stacy’s friend, Heidi Armitage, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It had spread to her bones by the time it was discovered and she died that same year,” he says. “She was dealt cards you don’t come back from and that was just the most unjust thing I had ever seen.”
Wild emotions raced through Greenberg’s head during Armitage’s memorial service. “She was outdoorsy, she didn’t smoke, she was a healthy eater,” he says. “I remember staring at the backs of her children’s heads—they were both under 10 years old at the time—and I was sad, but more than sad. I was angry. It wasn’t fair. I was livid because this was such an injustice.”
Greenberg transformed his anger into action and in 2013, he and Stacy created Heidi’s Angels, a foundation to raise money for cancer research. That same year, Greenberg released his debut novel, All You Could Ask For, about women trying to keep their everyday lives and friendships intact while battling cancer. He’s donated all of his proceeds from the novel to Heidi’s Angels to fund anti-cancer efforts.
Greenberg, who has been with ESPN since 1996, is most well-known for Mike and Mike, the long-running show with Mike Golic, and now the new morning show, Get Up. However, Greenberg says he’s always wanted to be a writer, something he traces back to his childhood spent browsing through the bookstore his parents owned and operated. “I got into broadcasting as a way to pay the bills while trying to write the great American novel,” he says. His first book, Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad was released in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller. His novel My Father’s Wives was released in 2015.
Most recently, says Greenberg, thanks to the photos he and Stacy have posted on social media, he’s gained clout not for his broadcasting or his writing, but for his dog, Phoebe, an Australian Labradoodle with a pink tail (it was originally dyed pink when Heidi passed away as a subtle tribute to her battle with breast cancer). “We had been thinking about a new project to raise more money for Heidi’s Angels,” says Greenberg. “It was Stacy who came up with the idea to create a kids’ book, starring Phoebe.”
MVP: Most Valuable Puppy is a charming tale about a girl and her dog. “It’s about a little girl who likes sports and learns how to play from her dog,” Greenberg says. “There are a lot of sports books about little boys, but this one is different. And we don’t make a big deal of the fact that it’s about a girl. She’s just a girl out there playing with the other kids and having a blast.” There’s nothing morose about the story. “This isn’t a book about cancer,” Greenberg says. “In fact, there’s no mention of cancer in the book. It’s a classic children’s story. You can read it to a 2- or 3-year-old and an older child might be able to read it themselves. It has a nice message for kids to take away.”
Greenberg says illustrator Bonnie Pang’s depiction of Phoebe is spot-on. “She brought our dog to life,” he says. “She did a sensational job not only of creating a dog that looks just like Phoebe, but conveying her when she’s animated. There’s almost a magical quality in how she jumps off the page.” Greenberg, unabashedly smitten with Phoebe, unapologetically calls her “the world’s cutest dog” and says kids who read the book will grow to adore her, too.
Interestingly, Greenberg’s experiences with Phoebe are his first as a dog owner. “I never had a dog growing up,” says Greenberg. “In fact, I was afraid of dogs my whole life.” His fear stems back to an incident when he was just 6 years old and visiting a friend’s house. “We were wrestling as little boys do, but his little dog thought I was attacking him,” recalls Greenberg. “He came racing over and bit me. That was it. I was terrified of dogs ever since.”
Years later, Greenberg found himself at odds with his wife and kids, all of whom wanted a dog. “I was the lone holdout,” he says. “That experience as a 6-yearold really stuck with me.” Finally, he was talked into it. “You know, I never understood why people loved dogs so much,” he says. “But now I have Phoebe.”
Earlier this year, ESPN legend Dick Vitale asked Greenberg to be an honoree at his V Foundation for Cancer Research Gala in May, recognizing Greenberg for his work with Heidi’s Angels. “I was extremely moved and touched by it,” says Greenberg. With MVP: Most Valuable Puppy set to be released just days before the gala, the Greenbergs decided to acknowledge Vitale’s personal crusade to combat pediatric cancer by donating their proceeds from the book to fund pediatric cancer research. “Stacy and I talked about it, and thought it was appropriate, especially since it’s a children’s book,” says Greenberg. “We knew that Heidi would have loved the idea.” •
Find more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents.