The article below originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner and is being reprinted with permission.
Snoop Dogg, Montel Williams, Rocky Bleier and Chris Draft will be among the celebrities and NFL greats on hand for an exhibition match between the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team and local NFL alumni Feb. 6 at College of San Mateo.
Team co-founder Chris Visser was careful to note his organization is not directly connected to the similarly named Wounded Warrior Project, although both organizations list empowering wounded combat veterans among their goals.
“Part of our mission is to demonstrate the loss of a limb does not mean the end of an active life,” Visser said, “People should not be defined by their disability.”
While the WWAFT’s San Mateo appearance will coincide with Super Bowl 50 coming to Santa Clara the next day, Visser said his organization’s exhibition games around the country often happen on or near dates with military significance, like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
Team members are combat veterans who lost limbs serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they typically play against teams made up of local NFL alumni association members. Like the Harlem Globetrotters, the WWAFT never loses a game.
“There’s not an NFL player on the planet who would want to beat these wounded warrior heroes,” Visser explained.
It would be a mistake, however, to think the amputee players are not formidable athletes, Visser said.
Former NFL linebacker Chris Draft agreed, citing a team member who was a double-amputee below both knees and played on prosthetic legs.
“You almost forget they have a disability,” Draft said. “You do a double-take because they’re moving so well.”
Draft, whose resume includes playing for the Stanford Cardinal, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, said supporting veterans and participating in WWAFT games is a personal priority because his grandfather served in World War II and the Korean War, and his father and brother have served in the Marines and Navy, respectively.
WWAFT player BJ Ganem was a Marine sergeant in Iraq when he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED). Back then it was not immediately apparent he would lose part of his left leg.
“When it happens, you’re thinking ‘Am I going to be able to get patched up and get back into the fight?’” Ganem noted.
Being forced to leave military life due to an injury is something NFL alumni who join WWAFT on the field can relate to, Ganem said.
“If you played in the NFL or were a combat vet, there’s nothing you can do afterward that’s going to replicate that elite level of performance,” Ganem noted.
Draft agreed retired football players and wounded veterans can both face challenges adjusting to life after their respective careers.
“It’s true,” Draft said. “But the key is we have to be able to move forward, and that’s what these games show — that there is going to be something else.”
Snoop Dogg won’t be the only recording artist in attendance at the upcoming event. While the famous rapper will be there playing football, another special guest is X Factor Australia television singing contest winner Marlisa Punzalan.
Visser said the Filipino-Australian singer, who usually goes by just her first name, became involved with his organization when she gave permission for her song, “Stand By You” to be used in a WWAFT promotional video.
Punzlana and her family are traveling from Australia at their own expense so she can sing the David Guetta/Sia song, “Titanium” during the game’s halftime intermission.
“She could be the next Celine Dion,” Visser said.
If You Go:
Wounded Warrior Amputee Football Team Exhibition
Saturday, February 6, 12 pm
College of San Mateo
Admission: $10 (students and kids free)
Free autographs and photo ops