WASHINGTON - There are a number of special events throughout the year where local sports stars visit with military veterans, pose for pictures and sign autographs.
But on Wednesday, the Washington Redskins held an event where veterans got to know their favorite athletes thanks to the power of video games.
It would seem disabled veterans and NFL stars would have little common ground to get to know one another, and at times their interactions can be awkward.
"You have a lot of guys, they don't know what to say,” said Greg Zinone, founder of the non-profit group Pro vs. GI Joe. “You have a military guy, you respect him, you respect what he does, but how are you going to have that 20 to 30 minute conversation?
Thanks to the great equalizer, that conversation is being made through the Madden NFL 16 video game.
The Redskins squared off with veterans and active duty military members in the Pros vs. GI Joes Madden tournament.
“It's awesome for us to be able to come spend time with our veterans and I think it means just as much to us as it does to our veterans,” said Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
The NFL players were there to spend time with the veterans, but they were still competitive. But in this competition, what some see as a disability can be an advantage.
“After my injury, I also suffered a brachial plexus [injury] on my right side, so I don't really have a right arm,” said one of the veterans competing. “Mostly everything I do is one-handed. I get dressed, I shave, I drive – everything I do. I guess in some ways, I do have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to games because my car, they are like a big video game. I drive with a joystick.”
Veterans from Washington D.C. to Kuwait got the chance to play against their sports heroes. To those that have sacrificed so much, these memories are worth way more than memorabilia.
“You go to one event, you go home with an autograph – cool,” said Zinone. “You go to another event, you go home and you are going to talk about this for the rest of your life because you hung out with the guys on TV for 45 minutes just talking ... and it just means so much to them.”