WASHINGTON — Team Rubicon founder Jake Wood received the Pat Tillman Award for Service at Wednesday’s ESPY awards and used the forum to call on all Americans to follow military members’ example of teamwork, unity and compassion.
This is the fifth year the sports award show has honored an exemplary American who bridged the worlds of athletics and the military.
Wood, a former Wisconsin football player, served four years in the Marines including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning home and founding Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that deploys disaster response teams of veterans volunteers all over the world.
The group is well known in the military and veterans communities, but Wednesday’s national awards show gave Wood and the Pat Tillman Foundation a chance to highlight their work for a wider audience.
His acceptance speech implored all Americans to see sports and military figures not as unattainable idols but instead role models for the entire country. Below is the transcript:
Thank you. Those are the most important words I’ll deliver tonight: Thank you.
Thank you to ESPN, to Marie Tillman, to the Pat Tillman Foundation for selecting me for this award. Thank you to my mother, my father, my three wonderful sisters. Thank you to my loving wife and to the baby girl we are expecting this fall.
I want to thank the University of Wisconsin and Barry Alvarez and the Badger football team. I want to thank the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, every one of them a warrior that answer their nation’s call to service.
Both the military and sports have an incredible ability to make differences in our society disappear. Things as simple as a uniform let team colors like red, blue or gold, or a camouflage pattern, unite us rather than have colors like white, black or brown divide us.
Hard work in the pursuit of a common goal forces collaboration and appreciation. I have to believe if we all served in an infantry platoon, or played on a championship team, that we’d care more about what we have in common than what makes us different.
Perhaps most importantly this evening, I want to thank the selfless men and women of Team Rubicon, like Danielle Gilbert and Eli Rivera here tonight. Give them a round of applause, they won the award. These are the kind of citizens that America needs, men and women who put service above self, committed to putting differences aside to help their communities in their greatest time of need.
You know, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: If Americans treated each other every day like they do after disasters, we’d live in a truly special place.
Our nation’s capacity to love our neighbors is near limitless after a category 5 hurricane. We donate, we serve, and we pray. Citizens cross the proverbial train tracks to help those they wouldn’t speak to the day prior. But why is it in the months following a storm we retreat back into our corners to dismiss the human beings that we’d come to love just weeks prior?
We can do better, and we must do better.
Know your neighbor, love your neighbor, help your neighbor. Doing that is the best tribute that we can pay to the memory of Pat Tillman, and it’s the best thing for our country right now. Thank you very much.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.