The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given out by the NFL annually to honor players who dedicate their time to charitable work in their community in addition to their great work on the field. Since its creation in 1970, the recipient list is quite an impressive one. You can find out that some of the NFL’s greatest players have also been the league’s biggest givers. Here are just a few of the names that make the list: Johnny Unitas (’70), Franco Harris (’76), Joe Theismann (’82), Warren Moon (’89), Troy Aikman (’97), Jason Taylor (’07).
On February 6th, the 2015 award was granted to Anquan Bolden of the San Francisco 49ers. Bolden joined the elite alumni group for his success at the Q81 Foundation, which provides scholarships, dental programs, and community outreach for underprivileged youth in several cities across the US. What’s most impressive about Q81 is that it has already been around for 12 years (Bolden has been in the league 13), and has had sustainable success in every city he has lived in during the course of his career.
The award was previously called NFL Man of the Year Award, and was renamed in 1999 in honor of the legacy of 1977 winner Walter Payton. The award is decided by a voting panel including the previous year’s winner, the commissioner of the league, and Connie Payton (widow of Walter Payton). There are 31 finalists who each receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice, and the winner a $25,000 donation.
There has even been a few times when the prize has been shared. In 2000, Derrick Brooks for his work in ‘Brooks Brunch’ and Jim Flanigan for his work in child literacy awareness shared the award. In 2006, former high school all-star teammates, 2000 Heisman candidates, and former NFL teammates Drew Brees and Ladanian Tomlinson shared the award for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and community outreach respectively.
While the NFL continues to fend off public perceptions of inadequate handing of player misconduct and creating a cold and risky environment for players, honoring its players in ways such as the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award continues to help improve the league’s image and shed light on the good that players and the organization are putting forward in its communities.
Watch Bolden’s acceptance speech here, and check out the lineup of NFL All-stars behind him, all previous recipients of the prestigious award.