Football and the military are closely tied. While playing an NFL season is certainly not the same as a military deployment, certain qualities like leadership, discipline and determination carry over from the football field to the battlefield. Just look at the careers of Army and Navy Heisman winners and Vietnam veterans Gen. Pete Dawkins and Roger Staubach. Recognizing the sacrifices made by the military, NFL players and teams can use their earnings and fame to show great support to the military community. As the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles head for a Super Bowl matchup on February 12, 2023, let’s take a look at their Salute to Service nominees.
The NFL’s Salute to Service campaign aims to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans and their families. Kansas City’s nominee, Running Back Clyde Edwards-Helaire understands this thanks to his upbringing in a military household. His mother, Tonge, served in the Army while his stepfather, Shannon, served in the Marine Corps. “Being at home with my military mom and military dad, I guess that’s kind of where my competitive nature comes,” Edwards-Helaire said after being selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. “Just having that upbringing knowing when times got hard, nothing can break you.”
Shortly after joining the Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire focused his charitable efforts on supporting the military community. He worked with Blue Star Families on their 2020 “Thank You, Military!” sweepstakes where he surprised and Army family with a brand new Sleep Number bed and other accessories. Edwards-Helaire also raises funds in support of the Kansas-based Friends in Service of Heroes charity which advocates for support and awareness of the sacrifices made by the military community. “A lot of people tend to put military people on the backburner, especially those veterans,” he said in an interview with KCTV5. “Always having that in mind is close to my heart.”
Like Edwards-Helaire, the Eagles’ Salute to Service nominee grew up in a military family. Philadelphia’s Running Backs Coach, Jemal Singleton, was born on the U.S. military base in Incirlik, Turkey. His father, Gary, served in the Air Force and met his mother, Mary, while stationed in England. The family lived abroad in England and Germany before returning to the United States. His father’s service inspired Singleton to attend the Air Force Academy with the goal of becoming a pilot. There, he became one of the most decorated football players in the school’s history.
Singleton was a two-time captain at running back who helped the Falcons win 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. In 1998, Singleton was a part of the Falcons team that captured its first outright conference title, finishing with a 12-1 record that was capped off by an Oahu Bowl win over Washington. “A lot of great wins, but some even greater people. Military builds a pretty tight bond, I can tell you that,” he told the NFL.
Upon graduating from the Air Force Academy, Singleton had to make a choice between a career as a pilot or football coach. “When I got a chance to coach, I realized that I can’t live without this game in my life,” he recalled. Singleton fulfilled his Air Force service obligation, including a deployment to Tbilisi, Georgia, before returning to the Air Force Academy in 2003. There, he served as Executive Officer to his former coach, Col. (Ret.) Randy Superman, before joining the Air Force Football coaching staff. Working with the Eagles, Singleton hosted a military family at a game on behalf of TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “The military has affected who I am as a person, who I am as a husband, and just the lifestyle that I was able to grow up in,” Singleton said. “The Eagles have just been phenomenal in community outreach. The number of things that they do for the military community makes me proud to be a part of this organization.”
Feature Image: NFL
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