These NFL players use their star power to make a difference

Giving back and building personal connections are time-honored principles among NFL players who are celebrities in their local communities.

Russell Wilson
WENN.com

It’s almost Super Bowl Sunday—Super Bowl 2021 to be exact––and fans of the Buccaneers and Chiefs are so ready. Broadcast on CBS, this is the network’s 21st Super Bowl—the most in NFL Super Bowl history.

This year’s Super Bowl is historic for a few other reasons: it’s the first time a team has played the Super Bowl in their own home stadium and it’s the first-ever female official to work a Super Bowl, according to NPR. Referee Sarah Thomas was also the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game.

Sure, the 22,000 in Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium seem pretty lucky this year. But as the big day approaches, fans everywhere are giddy-––even if we can’t go bonkers in a sports bar or attend our usual Super Bowl Party, staying home with family this year to watch the Big Game still has us pretty excited. Pass the chicken wings, please, and no double dipping!

The thing is, no sporting event is as super-charged with excitement as Super Bowl Sunday, the season finale of football. If you’re not into sports, the entertainment will keep you hooked. Before the game, Miley Cyrus is performing a special TikTok Tailgate for healthcare workers. Grammy award-winning artists Jazmine Sullivan (the R&B singer behind the hit song Bust Your Windows) and Eric Church will be singing the National Anthem and The Weeknd is performing the halftime show. The party doesn’t stop at the end of the game, either––check out all of the celebs headlining the after party here.

Super Bowl 2021 ads will no doubt have us belly laughing, rather than belly-aching about pandemic stress. Stay tuned for Mike Myers and Dana Carvey doing a Wayne’s World update for Uber Eats; Ashton Kutcher and wife Mila Kunis teaming up with Shaggy for a Cheetos commercial (get the details here); John Travolta and his daughter making a TikTok about backyard fun on lockdown; Post Malone for Bud Light (we’re surprised it’s not for Crocs); Amy Schumer for mayonnaise; Lil Baby for Rockstar Energy Drink; and Peyton and Eli Manning wearing matching pajamas for Frito-Lay.

For this year’s game, football fans everywhere are majorly anticipating the showdown between Tom Brady, hailed as greatest quarterback of all time – and the new greatest quarterback of his generation Patrick Mahomes.

Yet in the football community, a superstar emerges even before Game Day. The night before the Super Bowl each year, at the NFL Honors ceremony, the league announces the winner of the “Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.”

A prestigious award for NFL players that recognizes excellence both on and off the field

Before Super Bowl Sunday, a panel of judges, including the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, selects the winner out of the 32 nominees—one from each NFL team. Sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, the “Man of the Year” award is named after the famous Chicago Bears running back to honor his legacy as a humanitarian. Payton and his wife, known for their kindness and generosity, helped Chicago’s neediest kids from the very start of his career in the mid-70s. Payton died in 1999, but his wife Connie continues to use The Walter and Connie Payton Foundation to focus on housing and providing services to homeless veterans.

Winners of the award become part of an elite club of do-gooders in their community. Six active NFL players – Drew Brees (2006), Jason Witten (2012), Thomas Davis (2014), Larry Fitzgerald (2016), J.J. Watt (2017), and Calais Campbell (2019) – are recipients.

NFL players inspiring others to get involved

As Campbell said last year, “Everybody, and I mean everybody, can give back. Even if you can only give five minutes to someone in need….those five minutes can change a life.” This defensive end NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens gives an untold amount of his own spare time. Through his Charles Richard Campbell Foundation, named after his inspiring father, Campbell runs sports camps and programs that teach critical life skills and computer coding, to name just a few of the projects aimed at young people in his community.


 
 
 
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Campbell takes seriously the simple but profound message his father taught him: every action has a consequence. Long before he won the award, he’d tie his performance in every game to community impact. He’d tally up his sacks and blocked kicks, assigning each a monetary value; every time he reached $20,000, he’d donate that sum to a charity of his choice. No stranger to hardship himself—Campbell’s family spent time in a homeless shelter—Campbell is eager to show young people how “dreams are achievable if you put the work in.”

NFL players giving back during these unprecedented times

This Super Bowl 2021, when communities are reeling from the pandemic, economic woes, and social injustice, we’re eager for inspiration and a way to dream bigger. As NFL Commissioner Goodell says, “This year has presented significant challenges for us all…The 32 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees remind us that even in the face of adversity, players continue to raise awareness and use their voice and platform to positively impact their communities. The nominees will leave lasting legacies across the country in a time when we need leadership and strength the most.”

Here’s a look at two of this year’s impressive nominees from the Super Bowl match-up. Keep in mind that the winner of the award receives a $250,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. But the other 31 finalists also walk away with a tidy sum. They each receive $50,000, donated in their name to charities of their choice.

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFL player Mike Evans is the youngest receiver in NFL history to achieve 7,000 career receiving yards and is the Buccaneers leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.

Off the field, Evans shines in his commitment to both his hometown of Galveston, TX, and to Tampa Bay. He gave $100,000 from the Mike Evans Family Foundation to support pandemic relief efforts in the United Way Suncoast and the Galveston community. He participated in the Twitch Stream Aid, a 12-hour gaming event that raised more than $2.7 million for the World Health Organization.

Evans also developed a deep bond with a cancer patient at the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, paid medical bills, and continued to support the family financially and emotionally after their child passed away. For years now, Evans has also been involved in domestic violence prevention initiatives and scholarship funding for students from low-income families.

“I just wanted to help, ever since I was a kid. I’ve always been a giving person. That comes from my Mom, and I was blessed with people to help me out…some people just need an extra push in life and now I want to be the one to give that to them. In a way, helping others, it’s like paying those people back. I want to give off that positive energy,” Evans said.

For the Kansas City Chiefs, tight end Travis Kelce has caught a pass in 101 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. During the 2018 season, he recorded 1,336 receiving yards, which is the most by a tight end in a single season in Chiefs history.

Off the field, Kelce shines in his commitment to poverty-stricken youth of Kansas City. Right after the NFL player signed a fresh contract with the Chiefs last summer, he donated $500,000 to Operation Breakthrough, an agency for the poor serving children from six months through the early teen years. With this money, the agency purchased a new building to be called “Ignition Lab: Powered by Eighty-Seven & Running.” The Ignition Lab will offer kids a safe place to go through age 18 and provide programs that let them explore STEM careers. “The vision is to give these teens in KC’s underserved neighborhoods a place where they’re exposed to interests and role models far beyond the field or court. Kids can’t concentrate if they don’t feel safe. They can’t envision a career they’ve never heard of or learn a skill they’ve never been taught,” Kelce said.

The biggest way for NFL players to make a difference? Get involved.

On the NFL community page, it highlights the mission of NFL players, owners, coaches and club personnel who continue to support their communities through philanthropic efforts.

Here are some of the ways that the remaining 30 “Walter Payton Man of the Year” nominees are using their magnetic star power off the field to make a difference:

Jaylon Smith of the Dallas Cowboys supports minority entrepreneurs through exciting Shark Tank-style initiatives.

Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns supports clean water initiatives in East Africa.

Trey Flowers of the Detroit Lions supports inner-city learning initiatives through his “Flowers of the Future” foundation.

Shaq Thompson of the Carolina Panthers supports the Boys & Girls club in Charlotte and became involved in bridge building between the Charlotte police and the community in the wake of the protests last summer. He also established the Thompson Legacy Fund.


 
 
 
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Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots fights for criminal justice reform and racial equity efforts, among many other projects.

Corey Peters of the Arizona Cardinals partnered with Kids in Need Foundation (KINF), a non-profit that ensures every child is prepared to learn and succeed in the classroom by providing free school supplies and distributing 10,000 backpacks to schools and students in need.

Steven Means of the Atlanta Falcons leads the team’s Social Justice Committee, which encouraged players to sign up to work the polls on Election Day in response to the shortage of poll workers due to the pandemic. He is also recognized for fostering better relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Bradley Bozeman of the Baltimore Ravens is recognized for his work through The Bradley and Nikki Bozeman Foundation that “seeks to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children and families by focusing on the dangers of childhood bullying.”

Harrison Phillips of the Buffalo Bills is named, in part, for his efforts through his foundation to make a positive impact in the lives of others. This year he donated more than $10,000 in meals to healthcare workers through a program asking people to complete chores or demonstrate an act of kindness toward others; in exchange he donated a meal to a healthcare worker in their name.


 
 
 
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Jimmy Graham of the Chicago Bears signed with the team at the start of the pandemic, and immediately began looking for ways to help the community. Through his Jimmy Graham Foundation, the NFL player made a six-figure donation to Ignite, an organization that helps homeless youth in the Chicago community; he also aids the Wounded Warrior Project and other programs that support military veterans and at-risk youth.

Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals supported the Freestore Foodbank with a $100,000 donation to feed kids and families in need during the pandemic. The NFL player also hosts The Atkins Annual Week of Giving honoring frontline and essential workers.

Corey Linsley of the Green Bay Packers supports Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), an organization that helps children who are abused, neglected and/or in the foster care system. He also shares his time helping survivors of cancer and many other initiatives throughout the Green Bay community.

Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos made the list for his contributions to at-risk youth development efforts, social justice, and COVID-19 relief through his Justin Simmons Foundation.

Michael Thomas of the Houston Texans is focused on advocacy and financial literacy through legislative change in his community. He also participated in the Boy & Girls Club Youth for Change Town Hall.

Jacoby Brissett of the Indianapolis Colts made the list for his #BreakingBarriers team initiative focused on racial, economic, and educational equality, but he is also an active participant in the movement to end systemic racism and improve relationships between police and the black community.


 
 
 
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Isaac Rochell of the Los Angeles Chargers is recognized for his work in providing meals to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, sponsoring Wishes for the Make-A-Wish foundation, and his support for the Black Lives Matter movement for meaningful social change.

Alec Ingold of the Las Vegas Raiders is a nominee for his participation in a number of initiatives, a few of which include his participation in the “Get Out the Vote,” support for NV Special Olympics athletes, education and financial literacy, and his work with Three Square Food Bank’s Coronavirus Emergency Food Fund that delivers meals to children, families, seniors, and furloughed workers in Las Vegas.

Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings is an important member of the Viking’s Social Justice committee. Following the death of George Floyd, which happened just miles from U.S. Bank Stadium, Eric has been an active voice in the movement for much-needed social change within the league and within the community.

Pierre Desir of the New York Jets participates in multiple community service organizations, including as an active member of the NFL’s Tackle Bullying program, as a scholarship donor to the New York City’s Public School Athletic League Girls’ Flag Football Team, and was named Samaritan’s Feet Person of the Year for sponsoring 450 pairs of shoes to be given to children in Newark, NJ schools.

Rodney McLeod of the Philadelphia Eagles is named for his Change Our Future foundation that “empowers people through education, advocacy, and awareness in the areas of youth development, healthy lifestyles, and community enrichment.”

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks made the list for his amazing generosity in donating a million meals to those in need through Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S. Wilson and his wife Ciara recently launched their own charitable fashion house, too.

Jonathan Allen of the Washington Football Team was nominated for his continued work with the Sasha Bruce Youthwork, an organization working to ensure emergency services and support are available to homeless youth. The NFL player’s significant financial donations and his participation in youth counseling sessions, on the board of the gala fundraiser, and the organization’s Rapid Response initiatives have positively impacted the lives of countless children.


 
 
 
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Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans was selected for establishing the Byard Family Legacy Fund along with his wife to support various community outreach initiatives and provide a much-needed sanctuary for families when things get tough.

Vance McDonald of the Pittsburgh Steelers is nominated for starting Trucks of Hope campaign together with his teammate Ben Roethlisberger through the non-profit Convoy of Hope, an initiative to bring food, hygiene, and medical supplies to those in need.

Arik Armstead of the San Francisco 49ers is recognized for selfless donations of technology supplies for students impacted by COVID-19 and his work to raise awareness and enact change with respect to education inequality and the public school system in school districts of color.

Demario Davis of the New Orleans Saints is recognized for his founding of the Devoted Dreamers foundation “created to equip the next generation of leaders with the tools to be successful spiritually, mentally, and physically.”

Dalvin Tomlinson of the New York Giants is the team captain of a group of 10 NFL players who have adopted the Far Rockaway Colts in Queens, NY. Dalvin and the group provide financial support and other resources to students who are part of the academic tutoring and flag football after-school program started by New York City Police Officers.

Andrew Whitworth of the Los Angeles Rams is recognized for leading teammates to support important social justice issues through non-profit organizations that focus on financial literacy, community-police relations, mentorship, food insecurity, and homelessness, to name a few. He also made a generous $250,000 donation to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to help feed people in need, and chairs the LA Rams Night For Wishes to support the Make a Wish foundation.

Byron Jones of the Miami Dolphins helped lead the team’s Social Impact committee and worked with the Miami Dolphins Foundation to donate $100,000 to the FRRC, an organization “run by returning citizens (formerly convicted persons) who are dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.” He also led the effort to purchase digital technology and wireless hotspots to help students in Florida’s underserved communities, and was committed to promoting voter registration and voting.


 
 
 
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Josh Lambo of the Jacksonville Jaguars is a strong supporter of special education, helping to raise much-needed funds for the North Florida School of Special Education. He is also a lover of animals who advocates for the adoption of rescue animals through local shelters; at the start of the pandemic he partnered with Fur Sisters – Furever Urs to cover all adoption costs for one week.

These star NFL players are using their sports celebrity to make a difference in their communities and set a great example for others. Regardless of who wins the “Walter Payton Man of the Year Award” this Super Bowl, each one of these 32 players are powerhouses––on and off the field––and deserve to be celebrated in a big way.

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