Retired NFL player Donnie Edwards tours military bases around world as part of USO effort
By SHAUN GOODWIN | The Kansas City Star | Published: August 14, 2018
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Tribune News Service) — Growing up in San Diego, Donnie Edwards knew plenty of friends and family who were proud members of the U.S. military, lending their strength to the Navy and Marine Corps stationed nearby.
It was a matter of pride that Edwards always held close to his heart, the fact that so many people close to him were fighting to protect their fellow Americans’ liberty and freedom.
Edwards didn’t follow that path — at least not immediately. Instead, he would play as a linebacker for UCLA before spending 13 seasons in the NFL with both the Kansas City Chiefs and the (then) San Diego Chargers.
Along the way, he was named a two-time All-Pro and appeared in the 2002 Pro Bowl.
But since his retirement from the NFL, Edwards has gone back to his roots, albeit in a slightly different capacity than the average American.
About 15 years ago, when Edwards was still in the league, he was approached by the United States Organizations, or USO, to tour to military bases around the world and bring cheer to American military men and women.
The USO collaborates with the NFL to send players, both current and past, on tours overseas to meet with service members stationed in foreign lands.
“I just think it’s a great relationship for the NFL and the military to connect,” Edwards said, “because I think we’re cut from the same cloth — we really understand and respect each other.”
Edwards recently returned from his seventh overseas tour, after spending about a week touring Okinawa, Japan, and visiting several military bases there. Edwards has journeyed to many military bases in a number of overseas locations in the past 15 years, including Kuwait, Djibouti and Jordan, to name a few.
Former Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson joined Edwards in Japan. The two showcased and lauded the kind of hard work the military goes through every day.
“I feel that it provides me an opportunity to bring awareness,” Edwards said. “Because I think there is a lot of people that just go about their lives and don’t really know what goes on to preserve our freedom and our liberty in this country.”
Edwards is now part of the NFL Legends Community, which enables former players to engage with military members year-round.
He said it takes nothing special on his part to bring a bit of joy into the lives of the service men and women he encounters. He simply enjoys sitting down with them and talking about football, about old games and former teammates, and connecting with the people who grew up watching him play on TV.
“There was Chiefs fans everywhere we went,” he said. “And you know how Chiefs fans are, they are all-in or all-out,” Edwards said. “And they were all-in — they had their jersey, they had the flags, just really pumped up for the year.”
On his most recent trip, Edwards met with members of an explosive ordnance-disposal team. He tried on a huge bomb suit, like the one seen in the 2008 movie “The Hurt Locker,” which can weigh up to 100 pounds.
The opportunity to work with such dedicated people was something that Edwards continues to appreciate. The spirit of cooperation that he feels on military bases reminds him of the camaraderie on a football team.
“It’s really similar, and I think we both really appreciate that on both sides,” Edwards said. “And to go on the inside and see what the different responsibilities are and how they work together as a team is just really incredible.
“It’s been really, really wonderful, because a lot of these guys are huge NFL fans, and some of these guys grew up watching sports, and to bring that sense of home back to them ... It truly makes a difference, and I’m just so happy to give that opportunity to them.”
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Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Ty Law and linebacker Donnie Edwards tackle New Orleans Saints wide receiver Terrance Copper in the first quarter of a NFL preseason football game on Aug. 23, 2007, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Edwards has been touring military bases as part of a USO program since his retirement from the NFL.
MIKE RANSDELL/KANSAS CITY STAR/TNS