2020 will mark the 10th year that the NFL will shine a light on one member from one team for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community by honoring them with the Salute to Service Award.
On Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Cannon the good news during a video conference call.
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“Look, I feel great about the organization”, Cannon explained to Heavy what that award meant to him. “There’s an amazing team that has gone into bringing salute to service to life, not just one week, a year like the NFL kind of mandates, but 52 weeks out of the year. Service is kind of part of who we are as a franchise. So yes, it feels good that efforts get recognized. And it was always our effort, our aspiration, to really set the benchmark when it comes to salute to service and I would say four out of five salute service awards from the NFL coming to the Falcons equates to benchmark.”
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The One Moment That Sparked Cannon’s Interest In Helping Soldiers
Cannon graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986 where the idea of starting a non-profit to help a close friend’s family sparked his on-going commitment to helping those of fallen soldiers.
“The moment really goes back to when we founded a charity. John McHugh was a colonel serving over in Afghanistan and was killed by a suicide bomber. He was a friend and a classmate and Captain of our soccer team at West Point. That moment, sort of, galvanized a group of his classmates to say, “Hey, we got to get involved, we’ve got to get people out there serving in harm’s way. And we need to find a way to make a difference for them.”
“And so since that moment, a group of us founded a charity in his honor called the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund. The fund’s mission is to provide college scholarships for children of the fallen. So for those kids whose dad or mom made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, we honor them, provided by providing them a college scholarship.”
The Johny Mac Soldiers Fund has raised over $28 million over the past six years and provided over 3,000 scholarships to fallen soldiers’ children.
Cannon Severed Several Years in The Army
This award hits close to home for Cannon as he is a veteran himself and served as 1st Lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain.
“I was stationed right along the East Germany border back in the, you know, in the late 80s, when the Cold War was at its peak. So I was a border patrol unit when the wall came down in 1989. So, to have a front seat and to be on the kind of the frontlines of a big moment in history when the Cold War ended was a great moment.”
Cannon also added that only 1% of the population knows what it’s like to serve our country which is why he found it important to use the Falcons franchise as a platform to shine a spotlight on the sacrifice our soldiers make.
Cannon Explains the Importance of Understanding a Solider’s Sacrifice
In 2018, Cannon and Dan Quinn directed a team USO Tour where they visited soldiers at various bases throughout Iraq.
Players were able to meet soldiers in their headquarters and get a first look at what they are doing overseas to defend our freedom.
“You can’t really understand it until you get up close and personal. So you can read an article about this thing that happened with the military and this going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it’s an understanding of 25,000 feet––when you get down on the ground, and you meet soldiers and you meet them in their environment, whether that was at West Point where we met cadets and soldiers and or in Iraq, when we met at the full operating basis––the level of appreciation, especially on part of the players, it becomes real in that moment, as opposed to kind of being an intangible thing.”
On Sunday, the night before the Super Bowl, Cannon will officially be recognized as the 2020 Salute to Service Award recipient during the annual NFL Honors ceremony.
USAA, a leading insurance provider to U.S. military members, veterans, and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the award recipients honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match the USAA’s donation of $25,000 to give to the Johnny Mac Soldier’s Fund, and Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank will match with an additional $25K from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
“I’m rooting for a great Super Bowl. For the end of a really difficult year. The fact that we’re getting a Super Bowl, you know, despite all the scares and the speed bumps that we had, but I’m abstaining because I got a division rival that’s in that group.”
….Go Chiefs Go.