Since its birth in 1920, the National Football League and its players have answered America's call during times of national crisis and military conflicts. More than 1,200 players, coaches, and team owners interrupted or delayed their NFL careers to serve in the armed forces during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Twenty-three, including former Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman sacrificed their life for their country. Three World War II soldiers with pro football connections, Joe Foss, Maurice Britt, and Jack Lummus earned their country's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1965, looking for a way to demonstrate the NFL's support for America's fighting forces in Vietnam, then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle conceived the idea of sending NFL players to Vietnam on "goodwill tours" to visit U.S. troops. The following year the NFL joined forces with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of the Far East.
From 1966 until the removal of forces in Vietnam in 1973, players spent up to three-and-one-half weeks visiting remote firebases, aircraft carriers, and other installations in Vietnam, Guam, Thailand, and Japan. Since then, active and retired NFL players and coaches have made numerous USO tours visiting troops in such locations as Somalia, Bosnia, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Kuwait.
Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the NFL and its players have been frequent visitors to the Middle East in partnership with the USO. Commissioner Roger Goodell became the first sports commissioner to visit the troops overseas as part of a USO trip when he toured Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 with Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants.
The NFL is proud of its longtime partnership with the USO and is grateful for the opportunity to support our men and women in uniform.
Another of the NFL's key military partners is the Pat Tillman Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting educational opportunities for veterans and their families. In 2010, the NFL and the Pat Tillman Foundation established the NFL-Tillman Military Scholarship which annually recognizes an individual who exemplifies Pat Tillman's enduring legacy of service.
The foundation's Tillman Military Scholars program covers not only direct study related expenses such as tuition, fees, and books, but also other needs such as room and board and child care. There are currently 171 Tillman Military Scholars pursuing their education at every level, from college freshmen undergraduates to doctoral candidates. All 171 of the Tillman Scholars are connected by their desire to improve their own lives while continuing to serve others.
The NFL and its clubs have a close relationship with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), an apolitical organization which supports veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with significant injuries. Each year, service members and Wounded Warriors are hosted at the NFL Draft and are brought on stage for special recognition.
In May 2011, former NFL standouts Tedy Bruschi and Chad Lewis and former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher teamed with four wounded warriors to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. The eight day climb to Uhuru Peak was intended to enlist the public's aid for the WWP while empowering wounded warriors.
The NFL's celebration and support of the military is highlighted each year around Veterans Day when all 32 of its member clubs designate one November home game towards military recognition. Teams honor our service members with the presentation of colors, special in-game tributes, stadium flyovers, and other initiatives as part of the Veterans Day celebration.