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.

USO Tour Veteran and Ravens Coach John Harbaugh Receives NFL Salute to Service Award

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is used to winning. He added another accolade to his resume earlier this month when he received the NFL Salute to Service Award.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh meets Army Gen. Ray Odierno (top) and mingles with troops during a 2009 USO Tour. USO photo

Ravens coach John Harbaugh meets Army Gen. Ray Odierno (top) and mingles with troops during a 2009 USO Tour. USO photo

The award – presented by USAA – is given to one member of the NFL community each year who goes above and beyond to support and honor America’s troops and veterans.

Harbaugh participated in the inaugural USO NFL Coaches Tour in 2009. He traveled to the Mideast that summer with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and former NFL head-coaches-turned-TV-personalities Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden.

“We do some great things in the National Football League, but to me the Salute to Service games are by far the most meaningful because the support goes to the right organizations,” Harbaugh told the USO in 2012. “The USO is one of these great organizations. What they do for troops is first class all the way. I feel like America is in good hands as long as these very special people keep making very special sacrifices to keep sane those who keep us safe.”

The USO has a long relationship with the NFL. The league gifted NFL Game Pass subscriptions to USO centers overseas this past season so troops serving abroad would still be able to watch their favorite teams on Sundays. That gift kept games streaming to service members during last fall’s government shutdown, when TV service to troops in Afghanistan was limited.