NFL players who excel on the field and in the community are continuing an NFL-USO tradition initiated more than 45 years ago as they prepare to take part in a weeklong visit to U.S. troops at military bases throughout the Middle East.
Denver Broncos cornerback CHAMP BAILEY, Cleveland Browns linebacker D’QWELL JACKSON, Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard DAVIN JOSEPH, Broncos linebacker VON MILLER, Carolina Panthers wide receiver STEVE SMITH and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. WATT will travel to the Middle East to spend time with service members. This tour marks the first NFL-USO tour abroad for all the players.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for more than 45 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia to demonstrate the league’s support for America’s troops. Since then, NFL icons including TERRY BRADSHAW, LARRY CSONKA, FRANCO HARRIS, HOWIE LONG, DON MEREDITH, LYNN SWANN and JOHNNY UNITAS have visited troops on NFL-USO tours in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia.
Last year, the NFL and USO deployed players JASON BAKER, DHANI JONES, ALEX MACK, TAKEO SPIKES, and ERIC WINSTON overseas to boost the morale of service men and women. During the tour, the group visited more than five military bases in multiple countries throughout Southwest Asia.
In addition, current and former NFL coaches BILL COWHER, LESLIE FRAZIER, BEN KOTWICA, AND ERIC MANGINI spent July 4th in Afghanistan last year as part of the fourth annual NFL-USO Coaches tour to show their appreciation to service members.
Players participating in this year’s NFL-USO Tour:
CHAMP BAILEY, Denver Broncos:
A 15-year veteran and a 10-year Bronco, Bailey’s 12 Pro Bowl selections are the most by a defensive back in NFL history and are tied with teammate Peyton Manning for the most among active players. He leads all NFL cornerbacks with 52 interceptions since his rookie season in 1999, while ranking fifth in the league with 34 picks since joining the Broncos in 2004. He was chosen to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, as chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
A team captain and a two-time nominee for the Broncos’ Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award (2008-09), Bailey is an active leader on the field and in the community. He adopted the Denver Rescue Mission’s Denver Broncos Youth Center at The Crossing and has spent the last several years making monthly visits to the center to participate in activities and meet and inspire young people living at The Crossing. He also developed “Champ’s Volunteers,” a youth volunteer recruitment program benefitting the Denver Rescue Mission. An ardent supporter of the U.S. military, Bailey participated in an F-16 ride along with the Air Force Thunderbirds last offseason.
Bailey said, “This is a great opportunity to support the service men and women of our armed forces and bring attention to their efforts overseas.”
D’QWELL JACKSON, Cleveland Browns:
Jackson has started in 80 of the 81 games in which he has played since being drafted by the Browns with the 34th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft. In his seven NFL seasons, he has led the club in tackles on four occasions. In 2011, he returned to the field after missing 26 games over the course of the 2009 and 2010 seasons due to injury. That season, Jackson led the team and ranked second in the NFL in tackles (158) while setting a career-high in sacks (3.5) en route to being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. He was also selected as the team's Ed Block Courage Award recipient as well as being voted by the local media as the Browns 2011 Player of the Year. This past season, Jackson notched a team-leading 119 tackles, marking his fifth career 100+ tackle season. He served as one of three season-long team captains and was voted as a first alternate at middle linebacker for the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Jackson has been active in the community locally, nationally and globally throughout his pro career. He has been on mission trips to Sierra Leone in Africa and lent his support to Team Gleason, led by former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason, to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Locally, he founded the “Real Hope, Real Dreams” season ticket program which provides tickets, apparel and food at Browns games for the East Cleveland Neighborhood organization. He also led his teammates in sponsoring the club’s Holiday Extravaganza event, which surprised 100 kids from the City of Cleveland Recreation Centers with holiday gifts.
"It's an honor to be part of this USO tour," said Jackson. "I think it's a great experience and an opportunity to speak first-hand and show our gratitude to our military. What they do for our country is something special, and words can't express the appreciation that we have for the job that they do."
DAVIN JOSEPH, Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Since joining the Buccaneers as a first round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Joseph has played the role of a consummate professional, both on and off the field. The two-time Pro Bowl guard has started 83 of 84 career games on the Buccaneers’ offensive line, anchoring a unit that has become one of the team’s most consistent in recent years. Despite suffering a season-ending knee injury during the 2012 preseason, Joseph remained a committed teammate, dedicating his efforts to rehabilitation and returning in 2013 stronger than ever. He also strengthened his presence in communities throughout Florida, demonstrating his desire to have a positive impact on those less fortunate.
Joseph, the Buccaneers’ Players Association representative and reigning two-time Man of the Year, has become almost as well-known for enormous heart as for his long dreadlocks. Serving as a United Way spokesperson and leading the NFL’s United Way volunteer recruitment with “TEAM DAVIN,” his community efforts and foundation initiatives have made him as popular in local high schools and service agencies as he is at Raymond James Stadium. The Davin Joseph Events for Cause Foundation, as well as numerous Buccaneers initiatives including “Turkey Time with the O-Line” and “Davin’s Dream Team,” have helped Joseph establish lasting and impactful relationships in Tampa Bay and South Florida communities.
“To get the opportunity to represent the NFL, the Buccaneers, and to really show how much appreciation we have for the troops that serve our country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Joseph. “I have the utmost respect for our servicemen and women and the things they do, the sacrifices they make for our country. To go out there, pay our respects to them, and see how we can brighten up their day is what it’s really all about.”
VON MILLER, Denver Broncos:
A third-year linebacker, Miller is the only player in Broncos history to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. His 30 career sacks are the most in team history over a two-year span and are tied for the third-most in NFL history over a player’s first two seasons (since 1982). He was voted as runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 after finishing in the top five in the league in sacks (18.5), quarterback knockdowns (27), quarterback hurries (12), tackles for a loss (28), run stuffs (13) and forced fumbles (6). The No. 2 overall selection by the Broncos in the 2011 NFL Draft, Miller tied the Broncos rookie record with 11.5 sacks in his first season and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
His passion translates effectively to his off-the-field contributions and his work in the community. Known for sporting a large collection of thick-framed glasses, he started a foundation called Von’s Vision, which helps pay for eye exams, glasses, contacts and Lasik eye surgery for underprivileged youth.
Miller said, “I’m excited to represent the Broncos and the NFL on this tour and show my appreciation for the military personnel who serve our country.”
STEVE SMITH, Carolina Panthers:
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, wide receiver Smith is the Panthers all-time leader with 71 total touchdowns, 63 receiving touchdowns, 772 receptions, 11,452 receiving yards and 43 games of 100 or more yards. A veteran of 12 NFL seasons, Smith holds more than 30 career, single-season and single-game franchise records on offense and special teams. In 2012, Smith achieved the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the seventh time in his career and became the 27th player in NFL history in reach 11,000 career receiving yards and continues to move up the NFL’s all-time receiving charts. Smith ranks 23rd all-time with 11,452 receiving yards, he’ tied for 27th all-time with 772 receptions.
Throughout his twelve seasons in the NFL, Steve has been community-minded making appearances throughout the Carolinas with a focus on children and the military. Kids are always close to his heart, before each game he visits with a Keep Pounding kid from the Levine Children's Hospital. He always strived to do more and is now the Chairperson of the Samaritan's Feet NFL "Barefoot Ambassadors" program. The NFL Barefoot Ambassadors is a platform to help raise money, shoes and provide opportunities for others, including NFL players to serve impoverished children at Samaritan's Feet shoe distributions domestically and abroad.
“I am honored to have this rare opportunity through the NFL and USO to spend time with the men and women serving in our armed forces,” said Smith. “Being able to visit with troops during their deployment, having the chance to shake their hands, look them in the eye and personally thank them for what they do is a privilege.”
J.J. WATT, Houston Texans:
Watt had one of the most prolific seasons ever by a defensive lineman, as he led the NFL with 20.5 sacks, which tied for the sixth-most in a season in NFL history, and his 16 passes defensed were the most in League history by a defensive lineman. He became the only player in NFL history with at least 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in the same season. He led the Texans defense with 107 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 42 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles; and he tied for second on the team with two fumble recoveries.
Watt was named Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and also earned First-Team All Pro and Pro Bowl recognition for the first time. He has started every game for the Texans after being drafted with the 11th overall pick two years ago. He founded and serves on the board of directors of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which provides support to after-school athletic programs in Wisconsin and Texas.