A group of professional athletes visited Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Va., to meet Naval Special Warfare Sailors, their families, and high school students from the local community Feb. 1.
After a tour of the NSW facilities, Julius Jones, James Molinaro, Chris Brown and Glenn Earl from the National Football League, and Scott Hairston, a Major League Baseball player, met with wounded warriors and aspiring athletes at the SEAL Heritage Center on base. They signed autographs, took photos, and spoke to service members about the motivation and dedication required to become a professional athlete.
“What we wanted give back to the community that we support in SEALs and [Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen] personnel, especially the wounded warriors,” said Mark L. Donald, Deputy Director of the Member Life Assistance Program with the UDT-SEAL Association. “Then we wanted to pull in members of the Hampton Roads community. And we decided on a youth outreach.”
When speaking to the students and service members, the athletes said they were impressed with the level of professionalism in the NSW community and explained the similarities between NSW and professional sports.
“What these guys do is a lot like what we do, except the stakes are a lot higher,” Molinaro said. “And it takes more than the guys on the field to get the job done. We have a support staff just like they do and I think everyone deserves recognition for the part they play.”
The athletes also encouraged students to pursue a career in professional sports if that was their goal.
“I used to get so frustrated with my teachers at school,” Earl said to the theater full of students and wounded warriors. “They’d ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’d say, ‘I want to play in the NFL.’ They always said, ‘Well what else do you want to do?’ They never believed I would make it, but you know what? All of us here did it.”
One audience member asked the athletes about getting in to college. They all agreed their athletic abilities were the main reason they were accepted to attend prestigious universities.
“I say use what you’ve got to get what you want,” Earl said. He said he went to play football but ended up with college degrees.
Both wounded warriors and youth participants said a very positive message was conveyed during the event.
“I spoke with principals and coaches after the functions, and they all said the same thing,” Donald said. “The kids felt good about coming, but the message was clear: college is more important than going pro.”