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NFL Continues Strong Support of U.S. Military

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2004 – The National Football League's support of America's armed forces during the war against global terrorism continues a tradition that's been maintained since World War II, the organization's chief executive noted Nov. 12.

America's military members "are doing incredibly important things" during the fight against terrorism, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue pointed out, citing servicemembers' demonstrated "courage, commitment and sacrifice."

And it's important that the country -- to include the NFL -- back servicemembers' efforts, Tagliabue said.

"We need to support them," the commissioner said, adding, "We need to have the mindset that we have the responsibility to carry some of the burdens as well."

The NFL's support of the U.S. military "goes really back to World War II," Tagliabue observed, when many NFL players and coaches served in the military. That service continued, he said, during the Korean War.

In the 1960s the NFL began to work with the United Service Organizations, he noted, and cosponsored player visits to servicemembers serving in Vietnam and other locales. Today, he said, more than 200 NFL players have taken USO/NFL- sponsored tours to visit with deployed and wounded servicemembers.

NFL players, organizational staff and other representatives continue to visit deployed U.S. troops in places like Kuwait and Iraq, including making visits to wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Tagliabue pointed out.

In May, the commissioner visited servicemembers in Germany. During that trip, Tagliabue said he and the players also "spent quite a bit of time" with the families of servicemembers, who "are sacrificing too."

Tagliabue said the NFL will provide $250,000 to the USO in memory of former Arizona Cardinals football player and Army Ranger Cpl. Pat Tillman, who was killed April 22, 2004, during combat operations in Afghanistan. The donation, the commissioner said, will be used to establish "The Pat Tillman USO Center" in Afghanistan.

Tillman had passed up a $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the Army in 2002. His enlistment, Tagliague recalled, "had a profound impact on everybody. It was the ultimate commitment; it was the ultimate sacrifice; and it showed tremendous courage."

Tagliabue said Tillman's death "absolutely stunned" the NFL community.

The former NFL player was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Silver Star for gallantry, valor and heroism. Tillman's selfless service "sets an example that people should aspire to, especially young people," Tagliabue said.

Tillman, who'd also served a tour in Iraq, was the first NFL player to die in combat since the Vietnam War and the first NFL veteran since World War II to receive the Silver Star. People can help keep Tillman's memory alive, the commissioner said, by supporting The Pat Tillman Foundation.

The NFL also supports America's military through public-service tributes during NFL game commercial breaks, Tagliabue noted. A new spot, he observed, salutes the important roles played by the Guard and Reserve forces and their families. More military support, he said, is slated for the post-season NFL playoffs and during the Super Bowl.

A basketball star at Georgetown University in the early 1960s, Tagliabue later worked at the Defense Department as a policy analyst. During the 1970s and '80s he was an attorney for the NFL. Tagliabue assumed the NFL commissionership from Pete Rozelle in 1989.

Tagliabue, who celebrates his 64th birthday Nov. 24, noted that his two older brothers served in the military during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Today, he has two nephews in the Marine Corps, one serving in Afghanistan and the other headed for duty in Iraq.

His nephews' military service illustrate "two great examples of the kind of commitment that our young people are making," Tagliabue said.

"This is part of our family history because two young men really stand out in their generation," the commissioner observed. "And I think everyone in their generation and in the older generations, like me, really understands what that means - for the family and for the nation."

America's servicemembers should realize that "people are paying attention to what they're doing," Tagliabue said. "And we understand how much we're all benefiting from what they're doing."

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