NFL, USAA announce finalists for 12th annual Salute to Service Award

The NFL and USAA, an official NFL Salute to Service Partner, announced Cincinnati Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera as finalists for the 12th annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.

Hurst, Kittle and Rivera demonstrated exceptional effort to honor and support members of the military community. The Salute to Service Award recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a primetime awards show airing live Thursday, Feb. 9 at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT on NBC, NFL Network and Peacock from Symphony Hall in Phoenix.

“All three of this year’s finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA serve America’s military community in different but impactful ways, with each deserving recognition for their exemplary commitment to those who wear the uniform,” said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA senior vice president of military affairs. “From caring for the mental health of veterans, to connecting with military families, and the unwavering support of active-duty servicemembers, USAA thanks and salutes Hayden, George and Coach Rivera for their commitment to our military, veterans and their families, and to all NFL fans for helping determine this year’s worthy finalists.”

USAA will contribute $25,000 in the award recipient’s honor to the official aid societies representing each of the military branches. The NFL will match USAA’s donation of $25,000, which will be donated to the award recipient’s military charity of choice. The award recipient will receive a specially designed military challenge coin, recognizing their commitment to the military. In what has become a long-standing tradition, challenge coins are presented to members of the military community to demonstrate membership, recognize excellence or boost morale.

The Salute to Service Award is part of USAA and the NFL’s year-round commitment to honor, empower and connect with our nation’s service members, veterans and their families. The 32 nominees were released in November and consisted of active and retired players, coaches and team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community.

New this year, fans helped determine the three finalists by voting for their favorite nominees. Finalists were determined by a consensus vote of fans, an NFL internal committee and USAA. Nominees were evaluated on the positive effect of their efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment.

A panel of judges, consisting of representatives from the U.S. military community, the NFL and USAA, will determine the Salute to Service Award recipient, and includes:

  • Vice admiral John Bird (Ret.), U.S. Navy veteran, USAA senior vice president of military affairs
  • Lenny Bandy, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and NFL vice president of security
  • Chad Hennings, U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, three-time Super Bowl champion
  • Jim Mora Sr., U.S. Marine Corps veteran, former NFL head coach
  • Andrew Beck, Denver Broncos tight end and 2021 Salute to Service Award recipient

Since 2011, USAA has used its sponsorship to honor and appreciate service members, veterans and their families by creating unique opportunities that bring the military community and the NFL closer together.

Below is an overview on the three finalists. To learn more about the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA, please visit www.nfl.com/salute.

Hayden Hurst (tight end, Cincinnati Bengals)

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst has been a growing national voice in the mental health treatment, awareness and advocacy community since sharing his story of battling depression and anxiety in 2020. That year, he and his family produced a video with a message to Marines in support of Suicide Prevention Month, which helped introduce Hurst to the mental, emotional and psychological challenges faced by current and former military members. Since then, he has remained dedicated to veteran outreach, working with several organizations around the country through the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation. Hurst pledged $20,000 to Top Dogg K9 Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that trains and pairs service dogs with disabled veterans struggling with mental health challenges post-deployment. At the third annual Hayden Hurst Family Foundation Golf Tournament held in February, Hurst and his mother, Cathy, worked with Acadia Healthcare to fly in a foursome of military patients that were honored before participating in the event. Proceeds from the tournament benefited the Youth Crisis Center, an organization that helps children with depression and anxiety in Hurst’s hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. In August, Hurst partnered with the Cincinnati-based Armed Forces Tickets Association to provide four tickets for an active-duty service member and their family to watch the Bengals’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams at Paycor Stadium. The Hayden Hurst Family Foundation is actively collaborating with Acadia Healthcare to host military-appreciation events in the Greater Cincinnati area, while also working with the behavioral health science department at the University of South Carolina, Hurst’s alma mater, on military engagement projects.

George Kittle (tight end, San Francisco 49ers)

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers tight end, has exemplified what it means to honor, empower and connect with military members, veterans and their families since entering the league. Kittle’s appreciation for the military community is rooted in family with his uncle Pat, grandfather Carl and other loved ones who have served. He honors the sacrifices of service members and the efforts of military nonprofits through the My Cause My Cleats initiative, recognizing the Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF) in 2018, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) from 2019 to 2021 and Merging Vets & Players (MVP) in 2022. Since building a relationship with TAPS at the 2018 Pro Bowl, Kittle has sustained long-term relationships with families who have lost a loved one to service. After gifting the family of fallen army sergeant Martin LaMar tickets to Super Bowl LIV, Kittle has spent multiple seasons reconnecting with the LaMars by hosting them at training camp practices. LaMar’s purple heart medal, gifted to Kittle by LaMar’s family in 2020, still hangs in Kittle’s locker as a reminder of the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes. In the 2021 season, Kittle purchased over 150 tickets to donate to the National Guard. This year, he hosted service members at every 49ers game, extending his displays of appreciation nationwide. Kittle and his family founded the Hidden Pearls Podcast (HPP) to connect with military veterans through storytelling. Recently, HPP joined “Diving With Heroes” in Cozumel to reflect on the benefits of scuba diving by veterans, especially those with physical disabilities. Kittle donated over $25,000 to charities selected by hosted veterans on the podcast last season.

Ron Rivera (head coach, Washington Commanders)

Through every hardship and challenge, Coach Rivera credits his success in the face of adversity to his military upbringing and the values instilled in him growing up the son of a 32-year-career warrant officer of the U. S. Army, Eugenio Rivera. Rivera has spent the entirety of his 12-year career as a head coach giving back to a military community that has defined his success as a leader in the league. He has continued his great work with the military by joining in a number of initiatives this year. In May, Rivera, Commanders players Jonathan Allen and Jamin Davis, and co-owner and co-CEO Tanya Snyder surprised departing troops with a visit at BWI Airport, where the team passed out care packages to troops as they waited to board their planes. Rivera also took time in training camp to visit with over 250 active and former members of the military at the club’s Salute to Service Day. Additionally, he brought the entire team to Joint Base Andrews for a practice in front of the troops before the first preseason game and hosted nine wounded/paralyzed veterans at Operation Warrior Wishes in training camp. Rivera hosted Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) families at the OrthoVirginia Training Center at Commanders Park for the second year in a row. He is also donating all the proceeds from his appearances on the league-wide SiriusXM NFL Radio channel to the United Service Organizations (USO).

Salute to Service is the NFL’s yearlong initiative to honor, empower, and connect our nation’s service members, veterans and their families. Since 2011, this effort has raised more than $58 million for military and veteran support organizations such as the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF), Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), United Service Organizations (USO) and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). For more information on Salute to Service, visit NFL.com/Salute.

Founded in 1922 by a group of military officers, USAA is among the leading providers of insurance, banking and investment and retirement solutions to 13 million members of the U.S. military, veterans who have honorably served and their families. Headquartered in San Antonio, USAA has offices in seven U.S. cities and three overseas locations and employs more than 37,000 people worldwide. Each year, the company contributes to national and local nonprofits in support of military families and communities where employees live and work. For more information about USAA, follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@USAA), or visit usaa.com.

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