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Community, Former NFL Pros Join Forces To Tackle Veteran Suicide

Veterans and football players, as well as former New York Giants’ wide receiver Odessa Turner, at the Play For Your Freedom first anniversary football classic at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center on Jan. 25. (photo by Mark Gerlach)

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Veterans and football players, as well as former New York Giants’ wide receiver Odessa Turner, at the Play For Your Freedom first anniversary football classic at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center on Jan. 25. (photo by Mark Gerlach)

By Mark Gerlach

A friendly football game was played at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center on Jan. 25 to help battle veteran suicide.

“A good friend of mine came back from war carrying things on his shoulders that nobody knew how to understand or even what to look for,” David Lionheart, Play For Your Freedom founder, said at the event. “And it opened up my eyes to what veterans are going through on a daily basis. We decided to take action and to try to become an outlet for that, using physical fitness and peer-to-peer support, as a way to get our veterans back on track and get back into a society, a free society, that they fought for.”

Play For Your Freedom helps veterans suffering from wounds, both “seen and unseen,” use exercise and peer support to help with their recovery process, the organization’s website says. The group partners with local hospitals, and provides wellness workshops for veterans.

Wednesday’s game was Play For Your Freedom’s first anniversary football classic. Odessa Turner, a retired NFL wide receiver who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, was a guest coach at the game. Veterans on hand could play, if they wanted, or watch the game from the sidelines.

Other players that have taken part in past events include Stephen Baker of the New York Giants, Gary Brown of the Green Bay Packers and Damian Gregory of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Retired players guest coach during the game as a morale booster, Lionheart said. About 435 veterans have taken part in the program since it began, he said.

The Newburgh Armory Unity Center field was donated for more than a year to Play For Your Freedom. Lionheart thanked businessman and philanthropist William Kaplan, founding chairman of the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, for letting the veterans and players use the field.

To read the full article see the Jan., 27 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.

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