When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks with dairy farmers, he does so with a firsthand knowledge of the many demands it takes to produce food.

His experience comes from cousins who run Stokoe Farm, a dairy in Rochester, New York.

“I understand a little bit more about the importance of what you do, how hard you work, the values you bring to the table every day, and I want to thank you all for that,” Goodell said to the board members of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) at a recent meeting.

“My wife likes to tease me because I’m a big early morning person and I get up early to work out. She gives me grief about my routine, and I say, ‘Routine? You should go see the routine of a dairy farmer. If you want to get up early, go meet with a dairy farmer.’ That kind of routine is something I admire so much.”

Goodell offered other insights, namely the league’s longtime partnership with DMI that began in 2003. DMI is one of 38 NFL partners, and only six others have had a longer tenure with the league.


“I just can’t say enough wonderful things about the outstanding relationship we have with dairy farmers,” Goodell said.

The commissioner’s sentiments aren’t lost on Pennsylvania dairy farmer Marilyn Hershey, who serves as chair of DMI.

“He’s always respected us as farmers and has always recognized our work ethic and that it’s not an easy lifestyle,” Hershey said. “His level of respect for us shows, and it makes for a very unique and special partnership for the checkoff.”

Roger Goodell

The partnership’s foundation is built around Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school program that encourages students to consume dairy and other nutritious foods and to get 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

The NFL’s physical fitness legacy and star power help heighten interest and participation in the program. Fuel Up to Play 60 is in 73,000 schools, reaching more than 41 million youths across the U.S. In addition to DMI’s work with the league, local dairy checkoff organizations have relationships with all 32 NFL teams to bring activations into their markets. In fact, more than 6,200 events have been held with NFL players, mascots and cheerleaders since the partnership began.

Hershey has participated in several of those events and sees the impact the partnership has on dairy’s nutritional benefits in the diet and on students.

“When I meet players and hear their stories, I realize why they have such passion for getting quality food in front of kids,” she said. “I also see a return on investment from the NFL partnership in ways we don’t measure financially. The program fosters leadership skills in students who are disconnected from how a farm operates and where their food comes from. Because of Fuel Up to Play 60, they’re hearing about animal care, sustainability and dairy’s nutritional value, and they are carrying our messages forward.”

The partnership also has generated more than $32 million in grants to help nearly 8,000 schools implement healthy changes, which includes innovative ways to serve more dairy.

Fuel Up to Play 60 also is the flagship program of GENYOUth, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that supports the program with funding and grants. Since 2017, efforts led by GENYOUth have resulted in 500 Grab and Go Carts being placed in schools nationwide, helping to increase average daily participation by as much as 27%, expanding access to almost 50 million school meal opportunities and 12.4 million pounds of milk per year for breakfast.

In 2020 alone, GENYOUth provided 170 carts to school nutrition programs in every state and regional checkoff organization. These carts increased access to 17 million school breakfasts, helping to deliver 4 million pounds of milk.

DMI CEO Tom Gallagher said the NFL partnership works because dairy farmers and the NFL have the same focus and goals when it comes to schools.

“The cornerstone of any effective checkoff partnership is you must have shared values and trust,” Gallagher said. “Dairy farmers and the NFL have that because we are both very committed to the health of our nation’s children. We understand they are the future and the work we do together has made a difference in many meaningful ways for students and farmers.”

Adds Goodell: “The work we do together is all about making our communities better, our schools better, our kids better. You created Fuel Up to Play 60 with a little help from us. Tom had the original vision, and I was smart enough to agree with him. You have done an enormous job with that and it has been a foundation of our alignment.”

Goodell used a team concept to further illustrate his point of how he feels the NFL aligns with dairy farmers.

“The essence of what it’s like to be in the NFL and on a football team is very similar to what you do every day,” Goodell said. “Your daily activity is about teamwork. It requires discipline; it requires perseverance; it requires tenacity. All those are things we think make the NFL really successful.”

Like other industries and businesses, the NFL had to adapt its 2020 season because of the effects of COVID-19. Goodell is hoping for some more normalcy and full stadiums as the new season nears.

“Obviously everyone in 2020 had their routines turned on their heads, and we all had to reimagine where we were and how we were going to move forward, how we were going to adapt to what was going on and, frankly, deal with uncertainty,” Goodell said. “That’s difficult to do, and all of us had to face that. I’m proud of what the NFL has done but I’m also proud of what our partners have done, including dairy farmers.”

He pointed to fundraising efforts led by GENYOUth to get much-needed funding into the hands of schools that worked to find ways to keep the flow of food and dairy moving in the COVID-19 crisis. GENYOUth has raised 12.32 million dollars in cash and in-kind support for 9,505 schools through its “For Schools’ Sake – Help Us Feed Our Nation’s Kids!” program.

“Twelve months later, we’re all in a different place,” Goodell said. “We’re all in a place where there is more optimism and more hope and really is an opportunity for us all to come out of this.” end mark

PHOTOS: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the partnership with dairy farmers and the Fuel Up to Play 60 program has been positive for the league. Goodell has sought insights from dairy farmers and has attended various Fuel Up to Play 60 events over the years. Photos courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit www.USDairy.com or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group on Facebook. To reach us directly, send an email to Talk To The Checkoff

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.