PHILADELPHIA — A few years ago, Justin Masellas, a U.S. Army veteran who lost his leg in overseas combat, was told he would never be fully mobile after his amputation. Not long after, with a new prosthesis and with a group of peers, he took on more than 25 former players from the National Football League (NFL) in a head-to-head football match – and won.
“The athletes didn’t take it easy on us…they gave us a real challenge,” Masellas said. “It just goes to show that Wounded Warriors and amputees can achieve as much, or more as anyone else can.”
Disability outreach initiatives
As part of Military Appreciation Night, members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Football Team (WWAFT) took part in the Tribute to Heroes Challenge, a flag football competition pitting them against NFL alumni. The WWAFT is made up of U.S. military service members, who lost a limb during service in Iraq or Afghanistan, and are now using prostheses to engage in everyday activities.
The event was designed to honor military service members, raise funds for disability outreach initiatives and expand the WWAFT mission. That mission is to raise awareness for wounded warriors and the greater amputee community. The event was hosted by former Philadelphia Eagles Ron Jaworski and Vince Papale, and took place at the Wells Fargo Center prior to the Philadelphia Soul vs. Orlando Predators game.
“It means everything for people to come out and thank the Wounded Warriors for the sacrifices they have made,” Papale told O&P Business News. “It also means a lot for the NFL alumni…to get involved, to see the looks on the veterans’ faces and to see how appreciative they are. But what they don’t realize is that we are the ones who are truly appreciative.”
NFL alumni players included former Philadelphia Eagles Brian Westbrook, A.J. Feeley, Ike Reese, Mike Mamula as well as players of other professional teams.
“It is great to see them out here competing…encouraging others with disabilities to compete in their lives as well,” Mike Mamula, former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker said. “Their efforts mean so much more than what we [NFL alumni] have ever done in our lives or in football.”
Power of resolve
Football is a sport often associated with resolve, Dave Stevens, bilateral amputee and member of the WWAFT, told O&P Business News. By taking the field, the team is highlighting that resolve, and proving that “individuals with disabilities can do anything they want,” he said.
“Some people think that if you lose an arm or a leg, your life is over. Those people are wrong. There were some amazing plays – tackles, touchdowns and the guy with one arm who recovered a fumble and took it in [to the end zone], he said. “These are things you don’t normally see. It is amazing to be out here and show people what we can do with what little we have.”
By traveling to various cities around the United States and playing against current and retired athletes, the WWAFT is doing that.
The game ended in a final score of 63 to 35, bringing the WWAFT to an undefeated 8-0 record against NFL alumni teams. The team also defeated alumni at the last three Super Bowls, as well as in Green Bay, Washington, DC, Tampa and Atlanta. They will play more teams later this year in San Antonio, San Diego and Detroit.
“There is a fraternity and a tremendous bond between the military and the NFL,” Papale said. “We [NFL alumni] never went to war. These guys did. Don’t feel sorry for them because they are wearing a prosthesis…they are just as capable as anyone else.”
This event was made possible with the support of the Philadelphia Soul, the Military Benefit Association and Zimmer. Proceeds will help fund the WWAFT and additional service disability outreach initiatives. — by Shawn M. Carter
Disclosure: The sources have no relevant financial disclosures.