Football is Back: A Look at How the NFL Supports the USO

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The return of the NFL season marks 48 years since the league started supporting America’s troops through the USO.

Starting with the first USO/NFL tour to Vietnam in 1966 — which featured Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Johnny Unitas, Willie Davis, Sam Huff and Frank Gifford — to March’s USO/NFL tour featuring Jimmy Graham, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Fields, the league has found ways to consistently show it’s appreciation to America’s troops.

“We are proud of our relationship with the USO that dates back more than 45 years and includes dozens of overseas visits to troops and trips to military hospitals nationwide,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an email interview with the USO earlier this year. “The USO is an important partner for the NFL because our collaboration enables the NFL to give something back to the men and women in uniform that have given so much to all of us.”

Goodell became the first NFL commissioner to go on a USO tour when he traveled overseas in 2008.

“That USO tour was a privilege and had a profound impact on me,” he wrote. “The NFL’s support for the military had always been a priority, but it was really striking to see firsthand how much NFL football means to our service members overseas. Some of our players were traveling with me and we all came back with a renewed and strengthened commitment to our troops.”

Here are five ways the NFL has supported troops over the past few years:

  • NFL_321NFL Sports Lounge: The NFL pledged $2 million to build the NFL Sports Lounge inside the USO Warrior and Family Center on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The center serves as a home away from home for severely wounded, ill and injured troops recovering on the hospital campus.
  • Discounted tickets for troops: If you’re a service member who happens to be a fan of the Browns, Jaguars, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Chargers, Buccaneers or Redskins, you have the opportunity to buy discount tickets and/or stadium parking passes this season.
  • Salute to Service: The USO is one of three military nonprofits the NFL supports through it’s November Salute to Service games. A donation is made to each nonprofit for every point scored in these games, and special camouflage gear worn by the players in Salute to Service games is also auctioned off to benefit the organizations.

Comedians Lewis Black, Roy Wood Jr. Talk About ‘Extraordinary’ USO Tour Experiences

Back in Black ... er, camo. Comedian Lewis Black gets ready to fly to another forward operating base during a 2008 USO entertainment tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Back in Black … er, camo. Comedian Lewis Black gets ready to fly to another forward operating base during a 2008 USO entertainment tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Spring is fast approaching. That also means USO entertainment tours are gearing up across the world.

A trio of NFL stars just visited bases in the Middle East. The Band Perry is slated to preform for troops Monday in England at and the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is set to launch another year of touring on April 4.

Earlier this week, Politico highlighted two comedians – Roy Wood Jr. and Lewis Black – who’ve taken the USO stage to bring laughs to troops.

“You’re not getting the same kind of sense of self-worth when you get off the stage in Iowa on a Thursday night as you did entertaining a bunch of men and women who just want a slice of home,” Wood said.

Wood – a regular on TBS’ “Sullivan & Son” - wrapped a USO tour to Guam and the Philippines earlier this month.

The Politico story also quoted Black. The legendary stand-up comedian and frequent contributor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has been on three USO tours.

“You go to perform for the troops it’s what it must have been like performing at Woodstock,” Black said. “It’s extraordinary. … The amount of energy that you get on the stage is like nothing — I don’t know what else to compare it to. It’s like an adrenaline rush. They’re so thrilled that you are there. .. It was one of the most extraordinary times in my life.”

You can read the full Politico story on USO tours here.

Photos: NFL Stars Jimmy Graham, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Fields Visit Troops in the Middle East on USO Tour

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It’s football season downrange.

While the official NFL season ended last month, a trio of professional football players are continuing the tradition of traveling to the Middle East for an offseason USO entertainment tour. New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon and Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields are currently meeting, playing catch with, and even getting carried around by (see the slideshow above) U.S. troops downrange.

“This experience for me has truly been life-changing,” said Graham, who caught an NFL-best 16 touchdowns last season. “The personal connection I’ve been able to make is something that will be with me forever. I grew up in a military home and this just makes me more of a patriot. I have more of an appreciation for the little things we have back home each and every day.”