The United States Armed Forces and the National Football League have a long history together. It’s not just about 1963 Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach serving in the U.S. Navy for five years before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1969. It’s also not about Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman and his voluntary military service after 9/11, although that story is well known to all NFL fans.
The NFL’s Salute to Service program is an annual military appreciation campaign which includes in-game ceremonies during the month of November (for Veterans Day) at every NFL stadium. An annual award is also given to an NFL player for his contributions to the armed services and ongoing, year-round fundraising events.
To date, this NFL program has raised $412,500 for its three non-profit beneficiaries: The Pat Tillman Foundation, United Service Organizations (USO) and the Wounded Warrior Project. For every point scored during the NFL’s 32 Salute to Service games in honor of Veterans Day, the league has donated $100 to each of these non-profit partners. The NFL also auctions off camouflage-themed NFL clothing and jerseys to help raise money as well.
Last season, the Salute to Service Award—presented by the United Services Automobile Association (USAA)—was given to Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen in January 2015. According to the NFL, the award was “created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families.”
Previous winners include former Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams (2012), NFL veteran cornerback Charles Tillman (2013) and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (2014). Since 2011, USAA has served as the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL. Together USAA and the NFL seek to elevate military appreciation across the league among players, teams, and fans through the NFL Salute to Service initiative.
USAA works in conjunction with NFL teams to honor the men and women who have served and currently serve in the U.S. military by arranging base visits, hosting military personnel and their families at training camps and Salute to Service games, and engaging NFL fans to show their appreciation for the military by orchestrating in-stadium card stunts.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS Local, AXS.com and Examiner.com. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.