Walter Payton exemplified the true meaning of what it was to be a class act on and off the field. His hard work in the community led his name to representing the award going to what the NFL calls “The Man of the Year.” Each year, a player is recognized for not only maintaining his hard work on the practice field and on game day, but more so, his hard work off the field. So many players work their tails off to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s what makes this league so great – when the men give back more and more of their time and resources to help those around them.
This year, the finalists for the award could not be more deserving. It is going to be an incredibly tight race for the ultimate honor. Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen are what it all comes down to. If any year there could be a three-way tie for this award, it would be here and now.
Watson, a 14 year veteran out of the University of Georgia, has been part of four teams in his NFL career beginning with the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots back in 2004 when he was selected in the first round at 32 overall. 14 years in the league is a heck of a long time and proves that he has been as consistent as it gets in terms of simply doing his job, but the longevity of his career speaks more to his value as a leader and a man.
Watson’s The One More Foundation was founded to aggressively combat things like modern day slavery, sex trafficking and any violent acts toward the poor. One More recently partnered with the International Justice Mission to fight these causes – the world’s largest organization of its kind.
“There are two million people worldwide involved in sex trafficking and human exploitation,” Watson told ESPN. “The slavery issue is really a big deal that kind of goes on unnoticed and unheralded.
“People want to help. A lot of times people don’t know how,” he went on. “The problems of the world seem so overwhelming that they do not know where to start. We provide people the opportunity to do something for someone. Whenever you help somebody, they end up helping you and you learn as much from them as they do from you.”
As for Olsen, he currently has two foundations – one to fight breast cancer and the other for kids with congenital heart defects. His mother, being a breast cancer survivor, was the inspiration for him starting Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation.
Olsen just tweeted out a special message to his followers stating that he would match the first $100,000 donated to helping families at Levine Children’s Hospital through February 4th. This is through his other foundation, The HEARTest Yard, which was founded in 2013 after Olsen and his wife, Kara, found that their unborn son, T.J., had hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). It’s a foundation that is set out to help families who have children in a similar situation as their son.
“We meet with the hospital staff and the nurses and doctors and go into these homes just to see and hear the families and have them relay the stories about this program,” Olsen said. “To hear how it is helping their family life and family dynamic is something far beyond what we imagined. It’s been fun watching it grow and have such an impact.”
Olsen was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2007 and spent four years with the team, so he understands what the Payton name represents.
“Playing in Chicago for four years, I saw firsthand what the Payton family meant to the city and the community,” Olsen said. “I was a teammate of Walter’s son, Jarrett Payton, at the University of Miami for a year, kept in contact with him. It’s interesting how many parallels there are. They have a great foundation that does a lot of great work.”
Then, there is Watt. The seven year veteran and three-time Defensive Player of the Year is, of course, applauded for all of his work he put in after Hurricane Harvey rolled through Houston. Most fans remember Watt sending out a message to his followers on social media asking to help him raise his goal of $200,000 for Harvey relief efforts.
What transpired in the following 19 days was nothing short of incredible. Watt’s message was heard loud and clear by fans, players, coaches and celebrities around the country. His goal was shattered. Watt’s efforts helped raise over $37 million in just short of three weeks.
“For me, this nomination is about so much more than one man,” he said according to the Associated Press. “It’s about the hundreds of thousands of people who helped donate to those who an extremely difficult time and rose above it all.”
What did this experience teach him?
“I learned how much good there is in the world,” said Watt, “how humanity steps up to the plate when they see fellow humans going through difficult times. From my high school and from kids with their lemonade stands… to seeing people put aside any differences and rivalries and helping out… and how they wanted to donate and to be good people and help their fellow humans. It shows how much good light there is in the world.”
The three in line for the award all make sure they highlight the fact that their peers are doing similar things, although they may not be getting the publicity.
“A lot of guys are doing those things, more than what people know,” Watson said. “One thing I always wanted to do is take advantage of the opportunities as long as I play and after I play.
“Everybody has a sphere of influence they can affect positively, whether it is 10 people or 10,000 people.”