Memorial Day in Sports: Remembering Athletes Who Have Served

Remembering those athletes who answered the call to serve.

Photo Courtesy of Brookings Institution

As everyone knows, it’s Memorial Day. A day to remember those who answered the greatest call of all and put their lives on the line for our freedom.

It’s easy in today’s day and age to forget those freedoms. It’s easy to turn on Fox News or CNN, or whatever news outlet you use, and think, “Wow, our country is falling apart.” But most don’t think about the fact that it’s a freedom in it’s itself that we have news outlets who can voice opinions. We can protest in the streets, we can go on radio and podcasts and say what we want. We can support what party we want without any physical backlash or penalty. And whether you support it or not, the right to pick and choose whatever gender or sexual preference you wish.

Most of us have the honor of saying that a family member served. For me, it’s my Uncle Joe, both of my grandfathers, and several of my great uncles (Tom, John, Frank, etc.). And for all of those who have served or know ones who have served, thank you for your service and for putting your life on the line for me and everyone who calls themselves an American.

For this article, I thought it would be nice to highlight some of those men and women who have given that ultimate sacrifice while also giving up their lives in sports and athletics. It was a different time back then and when they were called, they answered the call. Let’s take a look…

Yogi Berra

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of American Military Family

Yogi Berra signed a deal w/ the New York Yankees but didn’t end up playing for them until 1946. During 1944 and 1945 he served in the Navy as a Gunner’s mate on D-Day. Once he served his time, he returned to baseball and became one of the most notable names to ever play the game, winning 13 world series with the Yankees, and contributing to creating the worst sports fans in the world. “13 rings!”… grow up.

Bob Feller

Photo Courtesy of the Baseball Hall Of Fame
Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

Bob Feller’s story may be one of the most bad-ass and selfless stories of them all. Immediately after the Pearl Harbor attacks, Feller became the first professional athlete to volunteer for service. He was granted an exemption by the U.S. Government, but he turned that down and served time as Gun Captain in active missions. He then returned to baseball and became one of the most notable Cleveland Indians to ever play the game, and has since become a Hall of Famer.

Joe Louis

Photo Courtesy of Encyclopedia
Photo Courtesy of Pinterest

During his reign over heavyweight boxing, Joe Louis gave it all up to serve our military. Though the U.S. government placed him in a special unit to where he would never see combat, he went on a celebrity tour with Sugar Ray Robinson to help raise troop morale.

Willie Mays

Photo Courtesy of Medium
Photo Courtesy of ESPN

Willie Mays, aka one of the fastest guys on the base-paths, enlisted and served a similar time as Joe Louis in that he, and many other athletes, would take tours to different camps to build troop morale. He returned to baseball at the end of the war and hit over 600 home runs and became a Hall of Famer in 1979.

Jackie Robinson

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Robinson was part of one of the first all-black tank units, which may be the most bad-ass sentences ever written by my finger tips. He was honorably discharged from the military and though his tank unit was the first all-black unit to see combat, he himself never made the trip overseas. He has since been honored as one of, if not THE most notable baseball player of all-time. Thank you, Jackie.

Pat Tillman

Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Pat Tillman is one of the most widely recognized servicemen of my lifetime. You’ve seen his face nearly everywhere and he has one of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Pat was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and played safety for them. Making a solid salary and living his dream, Pat decided to answer the call and become an Army Ranger, aka some of the hardest people on the planet. In his second tour in Afghanistan, Pat was killed in a friendly fire accident. He received a Purple Heart and cemented himself in American hearts forever.

I would love the honor to continue writing this post, but I want to hear from all of you who else should be on this list. These were just some off the top of my head. I hope that when you’re reading this you’re surrounded by family, enjoying the day off work (if you got it), and taking time to thank in your hearts all of the brave men and women who decided that the call to fight the evils of the world was much more important than their everyday lives. We thank them.

Cheers everyone, Jiggy.

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