Chiefs players relish time with troops

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A group of Chiefs wide receivers used words such as “humbling” and “appreciate” to describe a recent community event.

The gathering flew under the radar for many, but for the other participants who perform a thankless job, being low key probably suited them just fine.

Oct. 15, 2013. Chiefs wide receivers Dexter McCluster (22), Donnie Avery (17) and Junior Hemingway (88) among players spending quality time with service members at Arrowhead Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Oct. 15, 2013. Chiefs wide receivers Dexter McCluster (22), Donnie Avery (17) and Junior Hemingway (88) among players spending quality time with service members at Arrowhead Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Frankie Hammond, Junior Hemingway and Dexter McCluster used Tuesday, normally a day off for the players, to spend time playing online video games with military members, mostly Marines, at Arrowhead Stadium.

The event was sponsored in part by the USO in partnership with “Pro vs. GI Joe,” a “program designed to provide deployed troops a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go head-to-head against their favorite professional athletes in exciting online video game competition,” according to a Chiefs news release.

“We always love and appreciate the support,” Sgt. Melvin Jacobs told Chiefs reporter Rachel Santschi earlier in the week. “We appreciate the Chiefs and the Chiefs players’ support and we also support them. I’ve always been a Chiefs fan for a long time, so it was cool to play some video games, get my football signed and meet these guys.”

Being around the military marked a first for Avery and Hammond, but it didn’t damper their enthusiasm when it came to spending time with the troops.

“It was a sense of giving back,” Avery said with a smile as he recalled the event. “They do so much. They’re not fans; they’re family also for what they do for us.”

Hammond said he enjoyed the opportunity just to interact with members of the armed forces, adding he came away humbled by the moment.

“The way our country is, it’s because of them,” Hammond said. “They put their lives on the line for us, so it was a humbling experience to show that we care. The least we could do is spend our time with them with whatever time we had.”

Meanwhile, Jenkins, Hemingway and McCluster have experience being around the military.

Hemingway participated in a November 2012 visit to Whiteman Air Force Base and said he came away with an admiration of what the men and women in uniform accomplish on a daily basis. He carried that feeling into Tuesday’s event.

“I appreciate everything they do for this country,” Hemingway said. “To do what they’ve done, hats off to them. They’re doing it for their families, for people they love and you can’t do anything but appreciate it.”

As rookie in 2010, McCluster participated in the team’s visit to the storied 1st Infantry Division, aka The Big Red One, at Fort Riley, Kan.

McCluster said he knows a lot of military members are NFL fans and watch the games on TV when deployed. However, he wanted all military members to know how big of a fan he was of their accomplishments by spending Tuesday with them.

“It takes a special type of person to fight for this country and fight for us,” McCluster said. “And I just wanted to let them know we appreciate what they’re doing. We commend them for that.”

Jenkins emphatically agreed with McCluster.

“They see us on TV, but at the end of the day we’re the fans of them,” Jenkins said. “They go out there, they sacrifice their life every single day and all we do is play a game. It’s two different things – we’re not out there to protect a country.”

Of the Chiefs wide receivers present on Tuesday, Jenkins likely has the deepest ties to the military.

He said he has friends in the Army, a friend in the Air Force stationed in Kuwait and a cousin in the Navy.

When Jenkins heard about the event, he said he jumped at the chance to participate.

“I have friends in the military, so I had to do it,” Jenkins said. “When they asked me to do it, there was no question about it.”

Other opportunities to visit with military members should present itself to the Chiefs players.

The Chiefs often utilize the annual league-wide November “Salute to Service” campaign to visit local military installations, including Fort Leavenworth and Whiteman Air Force Base.

Additionally, the Chiefs are partnered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which is headquartered in Kansas City.

And if the USO, which takes NFL coaches and players on troop morale visits around the world, ever asks a Chiefs player to come along, they already have one volunteer.

“In the future if the opportunity is there, I definitely would do it,” Jenkins said.