Latavius Murray lives the sacrifices of military families each day.
Murray’s fiancée, Shauntay Skanes, is in her 11th year of serving in the United States Navy.
Skanes recently gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son named Major. Her maternity leave will end in December, and she’ll return to Miami.
Rather than trying to convince Skanes to take the next exit from her military service, Murray is instead supporting her for as long as she’d like to continue serving.
“She decided to stay active, and I fully support her,” Murray explained. “When you have those desires before the relationship, you have to do everything you can to make sure that person is still being the person that she wants to be and you make sure you support her. It’s the same with my career, so it’s only right that I do the same for her.”
Murray is the Vikings nominee for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA, the NFL and USAA announced Friday.
Each team nominated an individual for the award, which is in its eighth year. Finalists will be announced in January, and the winner will be recognized at NFL Honors on Feb. 2, 2019, the evening before Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
"Since 2011, USAA has used its platform with the NFL to honor and appreciate military members, veterans and their families, bringing them closer to a game they love," Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs said in an announcement. "All of the nominees for this year's Salute to Service Award presented by USAA deserve special recognition for their commitment to support our nation's military.”
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community, along with Salute to Service games and other events. Since 2011, more than $26 million has been raised through the Salute to Service initiative for the league’s military nonprofit partners.
Murray and Skanes have known each other since he was a preteen. After he moved with family from Florida to New York, they stayed connected. They weren’t a couple when Skanes decided to enlist out of high school, but as their relationship has blossomed, he has encouraged her to re-enlist as many times as she would like.
“I think for her, one of the things she looked at when she joined was staying in for a long time, 20 years, so for me, I think it’s important that I support her, obviously, if that’s what she wants to do, and figure out how I can help her accomplish that,” Murray said.
Murray said he’s been able to see characteristics that help military members accomplish their jobs overlap with elements that help in football.
“I’ve learned a lot from her so far, because there’s things that I had no idea about, so I think it’s pretty cool we can teach each other about our jobs, our business,” Murray said. “In any branch of the military, the structure that you kind of get used to, the order, being on time. “There’s things we can relate to, a lot of things other than work, but when you talk about our jobs, you have to be prompt, you have to be on time, you have to carry yourself a certain way. We can relate a lot of ways in that.”
The up-close view of commitment, sacrifice and unselfishness has inspired Murray to do more to support military members and their families.
This offseason, he participated in a USO Tour to visit troops serving in Germany and Italy.
“It felt really cool to be able to bring a little bit of the NFL to them and where they were based,” Murray said. “That was a really cool experience and what stuck out the most was us being able to be there for them and give them a little taste of home.”
Murray also hosted men and women from the 945th FST, a surgical medical support team based at Fort Snelling that is part of the U.S. Army Reserves, during Vikings training camp. He provided encouragement and expressed gratitude before the group’s deployment to Afghanistan.
“I think that’s what it’s all about, if we can meet with them, talk with them and try to help as much as we can before they go and do their mission,” Murray said.
Maj. Paul Jarett, who was able to bring his wife and three children ages 11, 7 and 4 to the practice, said the 945th FST appreciated the experience.
“It was very nice to have us out here and treat us like we’re being treated,” said Maj. Jarett, who is approaching his 24th year of active duty or reservist service.
The visit provided respite from the stress of the deployment, a mission that was months in the making.
“We are trying to do things that really focus on our families, on our job, the mission we’re going to have in Afghanistan and just get ready for it however we can, be best prepared,” Maj. Jarett said. “It’s a little anxiety-provoking, but it’s something that we enjoy doing. We go into it with a positive outlook. It’s just serving our country, so we’re happy to do it.”
Additionally, Murray is honored to become the second NFL player to ever serve as an ambassador for the United Heroes League (Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was the first). United Heroes League provides sports registration fees and equipment for children in military families.
Murray will further support United Heroes League during the My Cause My Cleats game.
“What they provide is giving children the opportunity to be active in sports, by paying for league costs and providing equipment, allowing them to see sports games and things like that,” Murray said. “I put myself in our situation, if I wasn’t playing football, I would hope I would still be with my fiancée. She would be the one serving, but financially, if I needed that help for my kids, you would just hope that, and there is an organization like United Heroes League to help you out with that and provide those kinds of things for the youth.”
Murray said his goals for the ambassador position are to increase awareness, help raise funds and show “the people that are actually involved truly care.”
“When you look at these situations that these kids are in, or their parents are in, they don’t have that opportunity, so if you can provide for them and have a childhood like every child should have, I think that’s important,” Murray said.
2018 Salute to Service Nominees
Arizona Cardinals: Brandon Williams (cornerback)
Atlanta Falcons: Ben Garland (guard)
Baltimore Ravens: Robert Griffin III (quarterback)
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Groy (center)
Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera (head coach)
Chicago Bears: Kyle Long (guard)
Cincinnati Bengals: Jacob Burney (defensive line coach)
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas (former left tackle)
Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach (former quarterback)
Denver Broncos: Randy Gradishar (former linebacker)
Detroit Lions: Eric Hipple (former quarterback)
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones (running back)
Houston Texans: Christian Covington (defensive end)
Indianapolis Colts: Joe Haeg (tackle)
Jacksonville Jaguars: Malik Jackson (defensive lineman)
Kansas City Chiefs: Cheerleaders
Los Angeles Chargers: Alex Spanos (owner who passed away Oct. 9)
Los Angeles Rams: Andrew Whitworth (tackle)
Miami Dolphins: Larry Ball (linebacker)
Minnesota Vikings: Latavius Murray (running back)
New England Patriots: Joe Cardona (long snapper)
New Orleans Saints: Joseph Lombardi (quarterbacks coach)
New York Giants: Phil McConkey (former receiver)
New York Jets: Mike Maccagnan (general manager)
Oakland Raiders: Jemal Singleton (running backs coach)
Philadelphia Eagles: Howie Roseman (Executive Vice President of Football Operations)
Pittsburgh Steelers: Rocky Bleier (former running back)
San Francisco 49ers: John Lynch (general manager/former safety)
Seattle Seahawks: Paul G. Allen (owner who passed away Oct. 15)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Evan Smith (guard)
Tennessee Titans: Ariana Campbell (cheerleader)
Washington Redskins: Josh Norman (cornerback)