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 take part in weeklong visit to U.S. troops at military bases throughout the Middle East.
Carolina Panthers punter JASON BAKER, former NFL linebacker DHANI JONES, Cleveland Browns center ALEX MACK, San Diego Chargers linebacker TAKEO SPIKES and Houston Texans tackle ERIC WINSTON are currently overseas spending time with service members in the annual renewal of the NFL-USO program.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for more than 45 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO 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.
Waynedale's own Wayne High School graduate JASON BAKER, Carolina Panthers is a veteran of 11 NFL seasons, including seven with the Carolina Panthers, Jason Baker ranks as the Panthers all-time leader with 570 punts and 169 punts downed inside the 20-yard-line. He stands second in team history with a 43.97-yard punting average. In 2006, Baker achieved personal bests for gross average (45.74), net average (39.00), punts inside the 20 (31) and total punts (98). His 39.00 net average that season is a Panthers team record.
A 2011 team captain and Players Association representative, Baker is a respected voice and leader in the Panthers' locker room. Though he is active in team-driven community events, Baker's philanthropic efforts extend far beyond the walls of Bank of America Stadium. He is the founder of Catie B. Charities, a foundation dedicated to the development of a Continuity of Care program in the state of Indiana. For several years, he has also hosted hundreds of middle school aged youth at his Fort Wayne, Indiana football camp. The camp, which is funded by Catie B. Charities, provides campers with training in football fundamentals as well as emphasizing community service and building strong character. In lieu of a monetary fee, Baker requires that all campers engage in a day-long community service project. In addition to the personal time and commitment he provides to both his foundation and camp, Baker serves as the Panthers' team ambassador to the USO of North Carolina.
"I feel blessed to be able to go and share our appreciation directly with our service men and women in theater (Romans 12:8-21)," said Baker. "It's great that the NFL and USO facilitate this so that we can draw further attention to the service and sacrifice that these men and women choose to make."