2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Nominees Announced

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Every season, each NFL team nominates one player for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which acknowledges a player for his community service activities off the field, as well as his play on the field. Headlining this year’s list, not surprisingly, is Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who raised $37 million over 19 days for Hurricane Harvey relief. But another headline of the 2017 class involves the many nominees who reflect this unique point in NFL history, where the intersection of sports, politics and minority rights have defined the season. There’s a new kind of Man of the Year candidate, one whose community work focuses on fighting social injustices.

Of the 32 nominees, seven players were nominated specifically by their teams for their work in raising awareness of social injustice, ranging participating in police ride-alongs to organizing meetings with state senators. A year after Colin Kaepernick’s original anthem protest, 12 of the 32 nominees have been involved in some form of anthem demonstration this season, either sitting, kneeling or raising a fist.

“It’s a new wave, definitely,” says Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who has raised his fist during the anthem, starting in 2016. “Normally you get guys that are afraid to stand up, they don’t want to be released or they don’t want to face contract issues, but  when I see a man like [Eagles safety] Malcolm Jenkins or [Dolphins receiver] Kenny Stills, standing up for something they believe and not backing down, to me, that is a true American.”

Both Jenkins and Stills are Man of the Year nominees for their activism against racial inequality and social injustice. Jenkins’s efforts are focused on criminal justice reform, working to pass Clean Slate legislation that would seal old, non-violent misdemeanor offenses for Pennsylvanians who have not had any additional convictions for at least 10 years. Stills has spent time fostering the relationship between law enforcement and children in Miami. Last season he organized a town hall meeting with community leaders and law enforcement to discuss issues of racial inequality and how the parties could work to build understanding.

Stills left the town hall meeting with an idea to participate in police ride-alongs, where he would join police to stop by parks after school to hang out with local kids. “Just to help the law enforcement to build a relationship with the kids in those communities and build some type of trust and some familiarity with each other,” Stills says. “We can stop some negative things from happening by building these bonds.”

Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills works with local police officers to improve their relationship with the Miami community. 

Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills works with local police officers to improve their relationship with the Miami community. 

Courtesy Miami Dolphins

He’s also helped organize CommUNITY tailgates before every Dolphins home game, which bring local student-athletes, coaches, parents, community leaders, law enforcement and military personnel together to build relationships across races and economic backgrounds.

“I’m trying to make our country stand for what we say we stand for,” Still says. “We say we believe in justice for all, we say we believe in equality, and freedom of speech and then when people are currently protesting, people have an issue with that, or when a  police officer kills a young man or a young woman, they don’t serve any time. So, it’s just my goal is to hold this country accountable to the standards that we say we believe in.”

In an arrangement with the Players Coalition, a group led in part by Jenkins, the NFL recently pledged to donate nearly $89 million over seven years to projects central to Stills and Jenkins’ focuses—criminal justice reform, law enforcement, community relations and education. The pledge represents the largest amount the NFL would spend on a social cause—more than the Salute to Service and Breast Cancer Awareness/Crucial Catch platforms.

Woodyard’s own community work reflects another current social cause, the women’s movement. Woodyard’s charity, 16Ways, is involved in a number of efforts, including a program called GYRLS, an acronym for “giving yourself respect and love,” that provides mentorship for girls as they transition to the teen years, developing self-esteem and providing positive direction through activities such as job shadowing, financial education and health and wellness talks. Woodyard’s daughters, two-year-old Noah and nine-month-old Luca, serve as the inspiration for the program. “I just want to try to make it a better world for everybody, but definitely for my daughters,” he says. “We’re just trying to get our girls to see that they hold all the power in their hands and they can do whatever they want to do in life. I think it is important that our females see Hillary Clinton running for president; that’s the first time anyone has seen that. We just want to show them keep dreaming and if you want to be an astronaut, you can be an astronaut. Doctor? You can be a doctor.”

Falcons guard Ben Garland never takes a week off from community service. He tries to participate in one or two events per week and at least 63 charity events per year. Garland graduated from the Air Force Academy and fulfilled his two-year service duty, so he spends much of his community service time with veterans recovering from wounds or dealing with PTSD. Garland’s motivation comes from the knowledge that his career and his NFL platform won’t last forever. “We have a small time frame where we can use this [NFL] shield to make a large difference,” he says. “I’ve had kids come back to me—when I talked to them they were 13 years old and now they’re 18 or 19, and they tell me that some small speech I gave to them in a classroom  way back when has really changed their lives. That stuff is incredible to hear.”

While all the nominees are worthy, Woodyard can’t see Jenkins, Stills or Garland upsetting Watt for the award. He says he’d even vote for the Texans star if he could. “If I had to cast a vote, I would vote J.J.,” says Woodyard. “To see what Houston went through, the crisis they had there with the hurricane and the flood, just to see how quick he was able to get that momentum rolling.”

Here’s a look at the 32 nominees.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: Lorenzo Alexander, linebacker

• Alexander is president and Founder of the ACES Foundation, spokesman for the American Diabetes Association, PLAY 60 Advocate, Character Playbook Ambassador. He currently mentors a local inner-city high school football team about making good decisions on and off the field.

• He organized a day of community service, where 42 Bills players spent their day off at five different organizations throughout the Buffalo community, making a difference for youth athletes and students. 

• Throughout the remainder of the season, he will organize town hall meetings with leaders from the Buffalo community and a team-voted community organization award will be presented at each home game.

Miami Dolphins: Kenny Stills, wide receiver

•​ In 2016, Stills worked with the Miami Dolphins and Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) to host a town hall meeting that brought influential local leaders together with law enforcement to discuss actionable steps that could be taken to address issues of racial inequality and unite the community.

• Items that came from this meeting included a police ride-along program and CommUNITY tailgates, which bring local student-athletes, coaches, parents, community leaders, law enforcement and military personnel together at every Dolphins home game.

New England Patriots: Nate Solder, tackle

• Nate is on the board of directors for Fresh Truck, an organization dedicated to making Boston healthier by converting old school busses into mobile markets that drive to areas of the city that are categorized as food deserts, meaning that fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods are difficult to access.

• In April of 2014, Nate was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He discovered it early and is now cancer-free. That October, his one-year old son Hudson was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Nate and his wife Lexi found the tumors early and have been able to seek the proper treatment for their son. As his son continues to undergo chemotherapy, Nate has been committed to supporting local hospitals and organizations that aid children and families battling cancer. He visits Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to share his story. Nate also participated in the Jimmy Fund’s annual Telethon and has attended the One Mission Kid’s Cancer Buzz Off to raise funds for children battling cancer. He is also a supporter of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which helps to offset living expenses for families battling cancer.

New York Jets: Quincy Enunwa, wide receiver

•​ Enunwa volunteers with middle school students through the Jets PLAY 60 Challenge—a program that encourages youth to live healthier lives and participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

•​ Involved with the launch of the Jet’s Flag Football League in partnership with the NYC Police Athletic League, that will allow more than 1,200 NYC children to participate in the athletic program at no cost.

•​ Enunwa speaks to high school football teams through the Jets relationship with the New York City Department of Education’s Public School Athletic League’s High School Football program.

AFC NORTH

Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens: Ben Watson, tight end

• Watson’s charity, the One More Foundation, recently partnered with the International Justice Mission, the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor. Watson took a three-day trip to Lebanon, where he witnessed firsthand the Middle East’s refugee crisis. He and his wife, Kirsten, traveled to the Dominican Republic in June to begin formulating plans that combat sex trafficking. .

• Named one of CNN’s Most Extraordinary People of the Year (2014), Benjamin regularly appears on FOX News and CNN to discuss issues such as race, persecution, ISIS, civil unrest and social responsibility.

• Watson has written two books: “The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life,” featuring advice and info on being a father, and “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us,” a look at race, bias and justice, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

 Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Johnson, defensive end

• ​Johnson’s MJ93-90 Foundation educates children on the importance of capitalizing on their talents and abilities with mentorship, educational programming and encouragement to have a vision for success.

• Two years ago, Michael started a program encouraging kids and the Cincinnati Police Department to strengthen their relationship in the community. This year’s program includes a community service component where kids and officers volunteer together. The kids engage in a question and answer session with officers to discuss any concerns they have about law enforcement and the current climate in America.

Cleveland Browns: Randall Telfer, tight end

• Randall frequently visits local police and fire stations to support those who protect our communities.

• ​This fall, he hosted a back-to-school event for kids from a local recreational center, which provided new backpacks to students for the year. He also supports the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, attending the Taste of the Browns event and volunteering at the warehouse before Thanksgiving. Through the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats platform, Telfer supports Boo 2 Bullying, a nonprofit organization founded in California dedicated to eliminating bullying in the school system and beyond.

• Telfer has participated in a police ride-along, and had conversations with local students during a town hall on police perception in neighborhoods and equality. He represents the team when speaking on those subjects with media.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cam Heyward, defensive end

• Heyward established the Heyward House Foundation in 2015, and kicked it off with a birthday party for those served by KidsVoice, an agency that represents abused and neglected kids who are in foster or group homes. He provides school backpacks, shoes and supplies to nearly 50 children, and takes them shopping for winter coats and boots. The Heyward House also supports local youth football teams, allowing kids from financially challenged backgrounds to play.

•  Heyward’s late father, Craig Heyward, went to his local Boys & Girls Club growing up, and today. Heyward works alongside the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. His foundation supports their “Triple Play” program, which emphasizes academic performance and physical fitness, as well as provides leadership and mentorship to the children.

• ​ Heyward is helping to lead an initiative with local police officers to make an impact in Pittsburgh. The first project was a Thanksgiving turkey distribution, where Steelers players and police officers worked together to distribute to local families.

AFC SOUTH

J.J. Watt at the Harvey relief staging area. 

J.J. Watt at the Harvey relief staging area. 

Brett Coomer – Pool/Getty Images

Houston Texans: J.J. Watt, defensive end

•  In 19 days, JJ Watt raised more than $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief. Watt will soon unfold a plan with strategic organizations, ensuring that every dollar goes directly to the people of Houston and its surrounding areas that are in need.

• ​ Watt started the Justin J. Watt Foundation in Wisconsin in 2010 out of a desire to help underserved kids. The foundation has provided over $3.4 million in funding to middle schools and organizations that have insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs or no after-school athletics whatsoever for middle school children.

• ​ Watt makes frequent hospital visits and regularly works with organizations, such as Make-A-Wish, to create special experiences for children whose wish to spend the day with him.

 Indianapolis Colts: Darius Butler, safety

• Butler started the Darius Butler Foundation, which aims to fight hunger in underserved communities, inspire at-risk youth to achieve their dreams and improve in the classroom. The Foundation runs an academic summer tutoring camp that provides academic support to help high school students learn studying and test-taking skills. The objective is to not only help students pass standardized tests, but also equip them with the tools necessary to succeed in college.

• For the past five seasons, Butler has donated tickets, hats and meal vouchers to the Indianapolis nonprofit, Boys II Men, Inc. Through this initiative, over 500 underprivileged boys have been able to experience a Colts game.

• ​Butler has hosted two annual youth football and cheerleading camps in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Darius also hosts a youth football and personal development program that provides mentorship, coaching and guidance to area youth.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Malik Jackson, defensive tackle

• Jackson’s foundation, Malik’s Gifts, provides support and builds programs for at-risk children, military children and families, animal rescue missions and family emergency assistance. Jackson annually hosts youth football and soccer camps for 500 children ages 7-14. He supports the local NFL FLAG leagues for Boys & Girls Clubs across Northeast Florida by contributing $5,000 to offset registration and uniform costs.

• This past Memorial Day, Malik provided a day of fun activities for 200 military children who lost a loved one. Jackson committed to donate $5,000 to 5 Star Veterans Center, a foundation that offers safe and secure housing to end veteran homelessness.

• Jackson also works with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. He participated in a ride-along with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office patrol officer and former Jaguar Ernest Wilford. Jackson and Wilford discussed civilian and police relations and the importance of dialogue between both groups as they traveled to River City Science Academy Elementary School to engage students.

Tennessee Titans: Wesley Woodyard, linebacker

• ​Woodyard co-founded the 16Ways Foundation with his cousin, Derrick Kelley, in 2010. The foundation’s mission is to encourage and empower youth, especially at-risk youth, to follow their dreams and succeed.

• Through a strategic partnership with Scholastic and its Family and Community Engagement (FACE) program, 16Ways builds mini libraries – known as 16Chapters – in inner city areas. Every summer, the foundation hosts free youth football and cheer camps. Guest NFL and college players, as well as high school coaches, reinforce hard work and practice as a means of accomplishing goals. The camp also includes anti-bullying and academic achievement messages. Woodyard provides young girls with opportunities for positive experiences to develop self-esteem and awareness through 16Ways’ GYRLs program – an acronym for “giving yourself respect and love.” As a dad of two girls, this program is important to Woodyard.

•  For the second year in a row, Wesley used the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats platform to raise awareness and funds for ALS. Wesley lost his aunt to ALS, and is close to former Titans linebacker Tim Shaw, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2014.

  

AFC WEST

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. 

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. 

Courtesy Kansas City Chiefs

Denver Broncos: Chris Harris Jr, cornerback

• ​Harris and his wife, Leah, founded the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation in 2012 to provide underprivileged youth with unique opportunities to help achieve their goals. Through his foundation, Chris has established partnerships with notable organizations, including the Denver Children’s Home (DCH), which helps kids who have survived trauma, neglect and abuse.

• Since 2013, Harris has supported various initiatives to speak out against domestic violence, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s “How I See DV” campaign and the NFL’s NO MORE movement. This season, Harris took part in Stand Up Colorado, a collaborative, multi-year relationship violence prevention campaign spearheaded by the Colorado Attorney General.

• This summer, Harris Jr. joined Denver mayor Michael B. Hancock in launching Mentor Colorado’s #MentoringFlipped campaign to improve the number of quality mentoring relationships for young people. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith, quarterback

• The Alex Smith Foundation’s mission is to provide foster teens with the tools and resources needed to transition to successful adulthood. The foundation’s Guardian Scholars program provides a scholarship and year-round housing along with extensive individual support. 23 former foster youth graduated from San Diego State University. The college replicated this program, and another 205 former foster youth have graduated from the school.

• Smith’s relationship with the foster agency, Cornerstones of Care, helped the organization to become the local leader for foster care. More than 40 youth have graduated high school and enrolled in college courses or trade training.

• Smith has personally donated over $600,000 to charitable causes since 2005, including all administrative costs incurred by his foundation.

Los Angeles Chargers: Casey Hayward, cornerback

• In 2014, Hayward and his mother, Tish Hayward, created the Hayward’s Hands Foundation in Georgia. Hayward’s Hands mission is to reach people of all ages with programs and services to meet their particular needs through love and compassion. Hayward’s Hands started with a Thanksgiving meal its first year, and now annually hosts a number of events, including the Thanksgiving meal, a Christmas Toy Drive, youth football camps and scholarship opportunities for students in his hometown of Perry.

• Tish Hayward died from breast cancer before the 2016 NFL season, and Hayward is now dedicated to honoring his mother with his foundation. 

Oakland Raiders: Bruce Irvin, linebacker

 • Irvin hosted his third annual Bruce Irvin Football Clinic in Charleston, W.Va. Bruce was a volunteer coach at Michael Crabtree’s annual youth football camp in Dallas as well as Justin Ellis’ youth football camp in Monroe, La. 

• ​Irvin volunteered with the Alameda County Community Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry with his teammates, helping distribute food to 157 low-income families. He participated in the Crucial Catch community event at the Raiders’ facility in which players and 15 breast cancer survivors and guests were led through a group art lesson.

• In response to the devastating wildfires that have ravaged the region, Irvin encouraged his teammates to contribute and help those effected by the fires. Irvin donated over $15,000 that was used to purchase food, supplies and gift cards for those who were impacted by the fires.

 

NFC EAST

Cowboys center Travis Frederick. 

Cowboys center Travis Frederick. 

Courtesy Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys: Travis Frederick, center

• ​Frederick established the Blocking Out Hunger Foundation in 2016 and began working with nutrition experts to create programing that would reshape a low-income family’s ability to address hunger. His Nourish2Flourish program provides meals to hundreds of low-income students who often go without regular meals during extended school breaks.

• Travis’ Pantry program provides schools with a food cart, or “Travis’ Pantry,” that offers non-perishable food items at night and on the weekends. The first Pantry opened at Trinity Basin Preparatory School in October and feeds over 70 students and their families.

• Since 2016, Travis has impacted 53,250 individuals through his efforts. Nourish2Flourish has provided 2,000 meals, with plans to provide 90,000 meals by the end of the year.

New York Giants: Mark Herzlich, linebacker

• After being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior at Boston College, Mark was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Mark regularly visits hospitals and sends get-well messages to fans battling cancer.

• Herzlich is a member of the advisory board for the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, which helps families tackle childhood cancer. He anually attends the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Gala, and the Jay Fund’s Sundae Blitz ice cream social. He currently serves on the American Cancer Society’s Athlete Council. Herzlich and his mother host an annual “Steps to Cure Sarcoma 5K” fundraiser in his hometown of Wayne, Pa. to benefit the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine, where Mark was treated.

• Mark joined many teammates to participate in a conversation with Senator Cory Booker and RISE regarding current social justice issues. He has been the Giants’ player representative at the NFL’s recent meetings between Commissioner Roger Goodell, players and owners regarding racial equality. He joined teammates Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Adam Bisnowaty in a ride-along with the Newark Police Department’s Bronze Shields and Mayor Ras Baraka to learn about the department’s community efforts and the challenges of policing.

 Philadelphia Eagles: Malcolm Jenkins, safety

• In 2010, Jenkins founded the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, whose mission is to help youth in underserved communities. The organization has expanded to help youth in three areas: Jenkins’ home state of New Jersey; Ohio, where he attended Ohio State University; and Pennsylvania, where he plays. The Foundation establishes programs that emphasize mentorship, character development, leadership, education and health. Project R.E.W.A.R.D.S. offers a life skills curriculum program to high school students in under-resourced New Orleans communities and has helped provide more than $100,000 in scholarships to college bound seniors since 2012. ​

• Over the last two years, with the help of teammates and peers, Jenkins has worked to create change in the criminal justice system. Jenkins planned two days of key meetings that focused on issues that are prevalent in Pennsylvania. Jenkins, Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and Roger Goodell met with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, grassroots organizations, policy leaders and public defenders in the city. He also attended meetings with politicians and lawmakers at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped support Clean Slate legislation.

• Jenkins and former NFL receiver Anquan Boldin formed the Players Coalition, a group of around 40 players across the league who are committed to improving the country’s criminal-justice system. As a leader of the Players Coalition, Jenkins worked with the NFL where the league and teams will donate around $90 million to social causes that are important to the players. 

Washington: Nick Sundberg, long snapper

•​ Last winter, Nick approached the Redskins Charitable Foundation with an idea for a new program to help increase school attendance rates in low-income areas and give equal opportunities to all children. His solution was washers and dryers. It started after Nick and his wife Flor heard about a laundry program that installed washers and dryers in schools after finding that thousands of children missed school each year because they did not have access to clean clothes.

• In partnership with the Redskins Charitable Foundation, Nick will launch the Loads of Love (LOL) laundry program in three Prince George’s County public schools and two youth shelters in Washington. The program will provide schools with a high percentage of homeless students with the supplies and equipment needed to create an in-school laundry center.

NFC NORTH 

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. 

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. 

Courtesy Green Bay Packers

Chicago Bears: Sam Acho, linebacker

• Acho is dedicated to making sure the people of Nigeria have access to basic health care. Through Living Hope Christian Ministries, Acho and his family fundraised money to build a medical clinic in Nigeria that opened last June. He continues to raise funds to sustain the facility with staff, medicine and equipment. Acho hosted his second annual Celebrity Waiter Night in Chicago this past September at Steak 48. Over twenty of his teammates served guests and helped raise over $100,000.

• Sam is a player ambassador for the Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative as well. As a player representative, he spoke to student ambassadors at the Rewards Summit at Halas Hall, took part in the Program Directors’ Skills Clinic and represented the Bears by presenting a $10,000 grant to a Chicago Public School as part of the FUTP60 Hometown Grant program.

Detroit Lions: Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle

• Founded the Haloti Ngata Family Foundation. To honor his mother’s memory, Ngata and his wife, Christina, established a college preparation program in her name. In two years, the Ofa Ngata College Preparation Program has assisted over 600 students in six schools in two states. The program provides free college entrance exam preparation courses for students. By the end of the 2017-18 school year, the program will add three new schools and reach over 1,000 students in only three years.

• Each year the Ngatas invite deserving youth on an all-expenses paid trip to see Haloti play in person during the “It’s Ngata Dream” weekend.

• He co-hosted Sam Martin’s annual charity softball game in 2017 and helped Ziggy Ansah deliver 94,000 bottles of water to residents of Flint, Michigan during their water crisis in 2016.             

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews, linebacker

•​ Matthews has participated in a variety of charitable golf outings, bowl-a-thons, and softball games. He’s helped support philanthropic work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Jimmy V Foundation, Hugs from Holly and met with the students who collected food at St. Mark’s Lutheran School.

• When Make-A-Wish kids come to Lambeau Field to fulfill their wishes, Matthews signs autographs for the kids, takes photos with them and spends time with each family. In 2016, he worked with wish kid Angel Cruz on the Catch A Star campaign, where Make-A-Wish sold greeting cards featuring artwork by Cruz and an autograph from Matthews to fundraise.

Minnesota Vikings: Kyle Rudolph, tight end

• As a kid, Rudolph spent long hours at the hospital while his brother was undergoing chemotherapy. He witnessed all that went into making a patient and his or her family feel comfortable during treatment. Years later, Rudolph is dedicated to changing the lives of families who are faced with the emotional and physical constraints of long-term hospital stays in his adoptive state, Minnesota.

• In 2016, Kyle and his wife Jordan opened a space for all children at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital called, Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone.

• Over the 2016 Christmas season, Rudolph partnered with a private jet company to create “Rudy’s Red Eye Express” which was funded in part by a personal donation of $10,000. The event welcomed more than 40 children and their families who were swept away from the hospital to board private jets to the “North Pole,” a cleverly disguised airport hanger.

 

NFC SOUTH 

Falcons guard Ben Garland speaks to military servicemen. 

Falcons guard Ben Garland speaks to military servicemen. 

Courtesy Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons: Ben Garland, guard

• Garland attended the United States Air Force Academy and fulfilled his two-year military commitment. He is very involved in the Atlanta Falcons military outreach and has dedicated time to honor service members.

• He has participated in Fishing with the Falcons, where players fish with soldiers who were recently injured in the Middle East and spoken to service members at Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Dobbins Air Reserve Base. He’s also visited wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. this past summer. Garland also spends time with veterans suffering from PTSD.

• In his three seasons in Atlanta, Garland has participated in over sixty community events. He has addressed youth football teams, participated in PLAY 60 camps and Gatorade Junior Training Camps, visited hospital patients, and traveled to Canada twice to participate with NFL Canada in PLAY 60 events.

Carolina Panthers: Greg Olsen, tight end

• In 2009, after watching his mother beat breast cancer, Greg Olsen founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. The Foundation’s Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research and education programming. The program has distributed over $524,000 to six hospitals and foundations nationwide, with funding generated by events executed entirely by Greg.

• In early 2013, Greg and his wife Kara founded the HEARTest Yard Fund after a routine examination of their unborn son, T.J., revealed the infant had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The HEARTest Yard Fund is a family service program administered in conjunction with Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte and provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, at no cost to the families or hospital. The fund has distributed nearly $1.7 million in support.  

• In February 2013, Greg traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to lobby the House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went in to effect in July 2014.

New Orleans Saints: Cameron Jordan, defensive end

• Since his rookie year, Jordan has participated in a community event almost every week.

• For the past four years, Jordan has been the face of the Saints Kids Club and has also been designated as the Live United player in the region. He spends several hours during the summer working with kids who take part in the Saints Community Patrol Summer Camps. He gives speeches to youth and high school students throughout the year and supports any event hosted by a teammate.

• Jordan recently represented the Saints in the NFL’s USO tour this past off-season to show his appreciation for the military members on the front lines, and also the support staff that get less attention.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Clinton McDonald, defensive tackle

• Following Hurricane Irma, McDonald covered all expenses to deploy food trucks into areas of Tampa that were left without power as result of the storm. Over the course of two weeks, over 15,000 meals were distributed.

• Each year, in his hometown of Jacksonville, Arkansas, McDonald co-hosts the annual “Iron Sharpens Iron” week that includes a free football and cheer camp, a golf tournament and bowling tournament that both benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Jacksonville.  

• McDonald’s family has a history of military service, so for the past two years, he has served as an honorary guest speaker at the Buccaneers General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year Awards. The event honors the families of active duty military members from each branch of service and recognizes their integrity, courage, commitment, and service before self. On Veterans Day in 2016, McDonald helped organize a clothing donation drive and purchased meals for homeless veterans as part of Operation Reveille, which works to improve the lives of veterans who have struggled to find housing, jobs, health services, transportation and other basic needs.

NFC WEST

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. 

Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. 

Courtesy Seattle Seahawks

Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson, cornerback

• Founded the Patrick Peterson Foundation for Success in 2013 to provide low-income and inner-city youth with opportunities and resources, specifically to improve poor reading proficiency.

• Patrick’s Corner, launched in 2015, builds and maintain libraries in Title I schools and inner-city community centers to provide at-risk students access to books and a fun environment to read. Peterson has opened 12 Corners in 12 Phoenix area schools and will open two more by the end of the year. These 14 Patrick’s Corners provide nearly 32,000 students with 24,100 books.

• In 2017 Patrick partnered with “Furnishing Dignity,” a non-profit agency that assists homeless families with housing, finance management and job placement. Patrick is providing “mini reading corners” to these families’ homes.

Los Angeles Rams: Rodger Saffold, guard

• Saffold is commited to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Miracle Network and their Extra Life program, which is an online video gaming effort that unites children in the hospitals through the power of play.

• Saffold has been active in a variety of charitable efforts since the team’s relocation to Los Angeles, including work with Heart of Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai hospital, Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, Inglewood Unified School District and Single Mom Planet Awards. He has also supported mentoring programs including Big Brothers Big Sisters and Operation Progress, a program that pairs LAPD officers with underserved youth from Watts.

San Francisco 49ers: Bradley Pinion, punter

•​ Bradley partnered with local first responders and lead youth from the Santa Clara Police Activities League through youth football activities at the First Responders Skills, Drills and Grills event. Bradley also worked with athletes with Down syndrome at Football Camp for the Stars where he ran the athletes through a day of skills and drills clinics.

• To encourage the importance of literacy, Bradley collaborated with 3rd and 4th graders at Don Callejon Elementary School to complete and present Mad Lib stories.

• As a rookie, Bradley participated in the 49ers Mentorship Academy, where he helped lead a leadership development lesson. In partnership with Reading Partners, which provides one-on-one instruction to elementary school students reading below grade level to help them succeed, Bradley tutored a student at Lakewood Elementary School.

Seattle Seahawks: Michael Bennett, defensive end

• The Bennett Foundation educates underserved children and communities through free, accessible programming across the nation. The foundation’s goal is to provide children and families with valuable knowledge and tools that will enable them to make positive, healthy lifestyle choices. The Foundation’s O.C.E.A.N. (fighting Obesity through Community, Education, Activity and Nutrition) programs impact thousands of people each year by offering free health education, health screenings, fitness activities, cooking demonstrations, and other health related activities.

• Bennett’s foundation is partnering with the African-led global movement iamtheCODE to get 100 marginalized girls in Africa into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs. He’s also partnering with multiple local organizations to start a gardening program for youth in juvenile detention.

• Bennett has been a regular visitor at the King County Juvenile Youth Services Center on Fridays before home games.

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Source : https://www.si.com/2017/12/06/themmqb-2017-walter-payton-man-year-nominees-jj-watt-michael-bennett-alex-smith-clay-matthews

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