It is not unusual for guys to travel in the offseason. We have the time—so why not? I’m like most guys; I like to travel and see new places. But I didn’t want to just head to all the vacation hotspots.
I wanted my travels to have meaning.
I’ve been there before. I came with Derek Carr back in 2016 when I was still with the Raiders. When he told me he was going back, I wanted to join.
It’s kind of an eye-opener, you know what I mean? It’s something that’s very emotional to see. It’s humbling to see. I think, for the most part, it was something that I needed. I think it’s something that everybody needs – to understand what truly living in poverty is.
I think here in the U.S. we have an idea of it. It’s our notion of what poverty is, but I think until we go outside in the world and see a different kind of poverty – it’s an eye-opener.
What’ unique about the trip is that we didn’t go there with a set purpose, like to build a school or dig a well. There wasn’t an agenda of any kind.
We went to have fun. Whatever form that ended up taking—well, we just went with it.
That’s really why we went – to show some love to them, make them smile. It has such a significant impact because it’s the simplest things that make them happy.
Something that’s so simple, a football that we get to play with and throw around every day. Most of these kids don’t own a football. A lot of them don’t even know what a football is. It’s just-- it amazes me how simple things mean so much to them.
While we were there, we heard about a kid in a nearby village that had a seizure and fell into a fire. Poor boy suffered some pretty severe burns; too severe to be effectively treated locally. Me and a couple of other guys [Bills RB Taiwan Jones and Cowboys FB Jamize Olawale] offered to pay for him to get treated by a specialist in Boston.
They’re searching right now for a family in Boston to take him in. He’s still in pain, and it’s been maybe a month since the accident happened. We’re just waiting to hear back and see if he can get a medical visa.
It was only a week, but the experience was one I will always cherish and will never forget.
Second stop—USO Tour
I wasn’t back from Haiti for very long before it was time to pack my bags again. This time, it as off to Italy and Germany as part of the NFL-USO Tour.
I expressed an interest in going on the tour to a friend in the league office, so when the invite as extended, I accepted. I had never been to Germany before, but I had visited Italy last year during the offseason.
Both are beautiful countries with lots to see and do, but me and the other guys were not there to enjoy the sites. We were there to visit with the men and women of the Armed Forces stationed there; to give them a small taste of home and make their day special.
When you’re looking at it from their perspective, it’s like, ‘Man, there’s Mark Ingram from the New Orleans Saints, and I’m from New Orleans,’ … That means the world to someone who’s been serving our country overseas for the past two years or three years, don’t get a chance to maybe go home often. To me, realizing what that meant to them was probably the coolest thing.
I can’t help but think that the life they live could have been mine. My fiancé is in the Navy and currently stationed in Miami. But if I wasn’t playing ball and she was stationed overseas somewhere, that could have been our family waiting to meet a bunch of NFL players.
On a personal level, it was great to see Vikings colors and logos while in another country. It’s amazing. To see those colors in Germany, to see that logo in Italy, it’s just a cool feeling. I get excited for every player that was there or every team that was represented there because I think it’s special.
Trips like this one show you how unique this game is, how loved the game is, and it just shows you, man, how fortunate we are to be able to put on that helmet and play a game that’s so loved by people all over the world, no matter where they call home.