Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik (left) was joined in his visit to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital by (from left) WR Maurice Stovall, DE Kyle Moore and DT Roy Miller
For many, Labor Day is a day of rest, when work is set aside in favor of family picnics, barbecues and a chance to relax.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer players had Monday's federal holiday off, too, following the conclusion of the preseason and a brief workout on Sunday. For some, however, it wasn't time to rest; a handful of players joined General Manager Mark Dominik on an outing designed to say thank you to the individuals who spent their lives defending their country.
Dominik was joined by defensive linemen Roy Miller and Kyle Moore and wide receiver Maurice Stovall for a visit to James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, where they spent the afternoon greeting local servicemen and women recovering from injury and illness.
"We just thought it was a chance to say thank you to our veterans for what they've done for our country," said Dominik. "We just wanted to say thank you, to spend a little time with them and just let them know how much we appreciate what they've given to our country."
Over 40 patients gathered in the hospital's Spinal Cord Injury Center to meet the Buccaneer guests, who signed autographs, posed for pictures and greeted every individual on hand. The group, comprised of veterans from conflicts ranging from Operation Iraqi Freedom all the way to World War II, clearly appreciated the Bucs' efforts for making the visit on their day off.
"I think it's great," said Carlo Arbore, a 13-year Army veteran who served as a drill sergeant for four years during the Vietnam War. "It shows that they care about what the people are doing for this country and it shows respect for the guys."
James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital serves patients suffering ailments including brain damage, spinal cord injuries, amputations and general medical illness caused by war. Along with meeting the patients in the hospital's recreation therapy area, the Bucs made special room visits to see individuals and families confined to their beds.
"I think today's visit was overwhelming to some of [the patients] that the Bucs took the time and thought about them on Labor Day, a holiday where they could be with their families," said Cathy Williams, a recreation therapy specialist at the hospital. "They took the effort and stopped what they were doing today and came out here to visit with all of them."
Veteran Jack Denney was overwhelmed by his feelings.
"I can't put it in words," said Denney, a veteran of World War II. "[It is a] once in a lifetime opportunity to be this close to the players. Even though I was originally from Atlanta [and rooted for] the Atlanta Falcons, now I have to be for the Tampa Bay team. Go Bucs! This is more than a privilege; it makes you have chills, and it's an honor that they appreciate us."
For the players, the privilege was all theirs.
"To come here, to talk to them — just the reactions on their faces, you can tell that they appreciate us coming up here and it makes you feel good about doing it," said Moore. "They appreciate you coming through here, shaking their hands, signing autographs. They're here all day without a lot to do, so to see different faces, especially Buccaneer players, it brightens their day up a little bit. Hopefully they'll remember this day for awhile."
Added Miller: "We just appreciate everything [they] have done for us. Coming from a military background as I do, I understand. My dad made some sacrifices and these guys paid the ultimate sacrifice, so we just want to thank them again."
Dominik and Moore share Miller's military connection, with both of their fathers having served in the armed forces. For the group of Buccaneers, the decision to visit with local veterans on the team's day off was an easy one to make.
"To get to talk to them and to explain that my dad did 23 years in the service and served his country proudly, they enjoy hearing that," said Moore. "But to be able to relate and have conversations with them, I think it meant a lot to them."
Since being named the Buccaneers' general manager in January, Dominik has made a concerted effort to give back to the community, often focusing his outreach efforts on working with the military and war veterans. Along with hosting a group from the VA hospital as special guests at training camp, he has volunteered numerous times with Helping Hands to serve dinner to the patients at James A. Haley and provides game tickets each week to local military groups.
"It's really rewarding for our players to know that these people are trying to get better every day, and anything that can kind of change the monotony of what they have to go through every day in terms of rehabilitation is important," said Dominik.
Judging from the scene on Monday, the guests from One Buc Place had made the most of their holiday.
"I can only imagine sitting in the hospital all day, sitting inside and not being able to do the things that you normally could, and to have professional players and people that you see on TV come out and say hi to you and meet you in person, we hope that can cheer up their day," noted Stovall. "Seeing the expressions on their faces, we think that it did."