J.J. Watt and Von Miller headline NFL-USO tour through Middle East

(Video courtesy: AFNAfghan)

For nearly 50 years the NFL has partnered with United Service Organizations to send some of the most respected players and coaches in league history overseas as part of morale-boosting visits with American troops.

In the late 1960s, the NFL became the first professional sports organization to send a contingent of players to Vietnam to visit servicemen. In the years since, Pro Football Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Lynn Swann and Larry Csonka have participated in the overseas tours.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Broncos linebacker Von Miller and Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith will headline this summer’s NFL-USO tour through the Middle East, the league announced Monday. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and Buccaneers offensive guard Davin Joseph will also participate in the trip.

Bailey, a two-time finalist for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, is an active leader in the Denver community. Bailey’s “Champ’s Volunteers,” youth program benefits the Denver Rescue Mission. In 2012, the 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback participated in a ride on an F-16 with a group of Air Force Thunderbirds.

“This is a great opportunity to support the service men and women of our armed forces and bring attention to their efforts overseas,” Bailey said.

Smith has been active in service-related events since entering the league in 2001. Last July, for instance, he reportedly donated $100,000 to the families of the victims of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., to help pay for their medical expenses. Smith has also been an ardent supporter of the troops throughout his time with the Panthers.

“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,” Smith said. “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.”

Last summer, former Chargers linebacker Takeo Spikes, former Chiefs lineman Eric Winston, former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones, former Panthers punter Jason Baker and Browns center Alex Mack visited five military bases in multiple countries throughout Southwest Asia. Two summers earlier, the group of players on the USO tour included Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Bills defensive end Mario Williams and Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

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