By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Richie Incognito knew at an early age where his passions were. Sure, football was one of them, and he played from the time he was 12 years old, including for the Bogota (N.J.) High School Buccaneers.
There was something else as well, the military. His father, Rich Sr., had done two tours of duty in Vietnam, and he had heard all the stories. So now that his ability to play football has gotten him to the highest platform there is — the NFL — he makes sure to take care of the other.
Incognito, the Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl guard, does whatever he can to help both veterans and active service men and women. For instance, at every Bills home game he leaves 20 tickets to be used by the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York.
“It’s important in knowing and using that platform to create change and create impact, and doing it for veterans has always been a calling for me,’’ Incognito said. “I have veterans in my family, some close friends, some also currently in active duty. I think it’s really important for us as NFL players to use that platform we have for whatever you feel is important. I figured mine out right away and it’s for helping veterans.’’
Incognito remembers admiring the military from the time he was a child playing for those Bogota Bucs. Sure, his father was a huge influence, but it went even further than that.
“I got it from my dad mostly, growing up, and him being in the army and all,’’ he said. “But I was always a rambunctious kid and it just drew me in, GI Joe’s and all of that.’’
When he was very young, he didn’t quite understand all the stories his father would tell him. As he got older, he not only understood, but appreciated what his father and other soldiers did for the country.
“Growing up the stories change,’’ he said. “When I was young you couldn’t really grasp the whole thing about war. As I got older, the stories changed and it was more about how he got drafted and had to go do a job, he got more into it.’’
So did Richie.
He lists two of his favorite books as, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson, the eyewitness account of Operation Redwing and the lost heroes of Navy Seal Team 10. And No Easy Day by Mark Owens, a first-hand account of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.
“I just became a huge fan of the military,’’ Incognito said. “All the military books just called me, it’s the things I really like to read. Now, I do a ton of military outreach and foundation work. In my professional career in football there are so many parallels between the NFL and the service, the family, the camaraderie, it just holds a special place in my heart.’’
During the offseason in his home in Arizona, Incognito trains with Navy Seals, who have also become good friends of his.
“I go training and shooting with them,’’ he said. “It’s really kind of special.
“They’re lead operators, with a lot of life experience. When they make a mistake, they pay with their lives, so they have to make sure they don’t make a mistake. When I make a mistake, it’s a game, and I get to line up again the next week, or even the next play.’’
The Bills had their Salute to Service Day on November 12th when they hosted the New Orleans Saints. For Incognito it was a special day.
“I think it’s great that the NFL can raise so much awareness and we can shed some light on veterans and their families and we can use our platform to do that,’’ he said.