NFL’sWal­ter Pay­ton Award means so much to nom­i­nees

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY BARRY WIL­NER As­so­ci­ated Press

Win­ning any of the AP’s in­di­vid­ual NFL awards, from MVP to top rookie, means plenty to play­ers.

Be­ing nom­i­nated for, no less win­ning, the Walter Pay­ton Man of the Year award means more.

Don’t min­i­mize how proud a guy is when he’s voted one of the pres­ti­gious in­di­vid­ual awards. It’s a por­tion of his re­sume that jumps off the page the way Saquon Barkley hur­dles over po­ten­tial tack­lers.

But be­ing se­lected for the Pay­ton award, re­named in 1999 for the great Chicago Bears run­ning back and hu­man­i­tar­ian, in­volves so much more than foot­ball achieve­ments.

“It is prob­a­bly one of my great­est ac­com­plish­ments,” says 2013 win­ner Charles Till­man, who played 12 sea­sons at cor­ner­back for the Bears and his fi­nal year with the Pan­thers. “It re­ally shows the true char­ac­ter of a per­son.

“When fans see us, they just as­sume a lot of times we are just ath­letes. They don’t know what these men do on their days off dur­ing the sea­son, in the com­mu­nity. A lot of play­ers re­ally put their com­mu­nity ser­vice in ev­ery week of the year. They get their char­ity work done and their vol­un­teer work.

“The Walter Pay­ton Award is about ex­cel­lence off the field. I am proud to be as­so­ci­ated with that award.”

Who wouldn’t be? In a time when many NFL play­ers have been crit­i­cized or even con­demned for their protests of so­cial and racial in­jus­tice dur­ing the na­tional an­them, many – if not most of them – also have been do­ing good deeds in their com­mu­ni­ties. They don’t do it for recognition or ap­plause. As Till­man notes, they do it be­cause they can “shed light on a big­ger thing. It’s not just foot­ball. It’s about be­ing a good per­son, serv­ing other peo­ple and lov­ing other peo­ple.”

Un­like in the past, when three fi­nal­ists were se­lected be­fore a re­cip­i­ent was cho­sen, one player from ev­ery NFL team is a fi­nal­ist. All will be rec­og­nized and par­tic­i­pate in NFL func­tions dur­ing Su­per Bowl week. The Man of the Year will be re­vealed at NFL Hon­ors, when The As­so­ci­ated Press’ in­di­vid­ual NFL awards are an­nounced Feb. 2 in At­lanta.

Five cur­rent play­ers have won the award: Drew Brees, Thomas Davis, Larry Fitzger­ald, Eli Man­ning and J.J. Watt, and they wear a Man of the Year patch on their jer­seys. All 2018 fi­nal­ists will wear a Man of the Year hel­met de­cal begin­ning this week through the end of the sea­son.

“It’s a tremen­dous honor,” Jets of­fen­sive tackle Kelvin Beachum says. This week, Beachum sur­prised Ca’moore Jones, an eighth grade stu­dent at Orange Prepara­tory Acad­emy in New Jersey, with two Su­per Bowl tick­ets. Moore was nom­i­nated by his teacher, Glenn Gam­ble, for his per­for­mance and growth with the Char­ac­ter Play­book course that is em­braced by the NFL.

“Just the name Walter Pay­ton, he’s the gold stan­dard,” Beachum said. “What he did off the field and on the field, his ex­cel­lence is bar none, top in his­tory. So to be men­tioned in the same name and the same breath as him, it’s truly hum­bling.”

Hum­bling is an ap­pro­pri­ate word be­cause the award fi­nal­ists of­ten feel that sen­sa­tion dur­ing their com­mu­nity work.

“I’ve been blessed to play in this league for 13 years and to be a part of some re­ally good sea­sons,” says Rams of­fen­sive tackle An­drew Whit­worth, who is heav­ily in­volved in help­ing the Make-A-Wish Foun­da­tion.

“But mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s life will go be­yond foot­ball any day of the week. It’s not just about the game, it’s about the op­por­tu­nity to bring peo­ple to­gether. When I look back and think about my NFL ca­reer, the time spent out in the com­mu­nity giv­ing back to peo­ple in need will al­ways be the most touch­ing to me.”

Adds Colts DE Jabaal Sheard: “With our jobs as NFL play­ers comes a huge plat­form to brighten and im­prove the lives of oth­ers, and that’s what I strive to do ev­ery day.”

Till­man knows first­hand how kind and giv­ing peo­ple can be. His own fam­ily was helped in 2008 when his in­fant daugh­ter Tiana needed a heart trans­plant. Ma­gali Gar­cia, the mother of 9-week-old Ar­mando, who died in a Min­nesota hos­pi­tal, of­fered her son’s heart.

To Till­man, Ma­gali Gar­cia is a hero, not him. She is what the Pay­ton award is all about.

“When my daugh­ter needed a new heart, an­other per­son stepped up and de­cided to take a bad sit­u­a­tion and turn it into a suc­cess story,” Till­man says. “She not only blessed my fam­ily but other fam­i­lies with her choice.

“For all we do in our foun­da­tion, it is a great bless­ing for what this woman did for her son. Ma­gali, she is the one who ac­tu­ally is bless­ing those peo­ple, blesses them ev­ery day, and doesn’t even know it. She served my fam­ily and a lot of fam­i­lies and she made an amaz­ing choice. A tough de­ci­sion.

“I think about her son a lot and I truly am sorry. She is a part of my fam­ily, and for us to have this story that has bonded us, and this con­nec­tion, and to turn that neg­a­tive into some­thing pos­i­tive by bless­ing other peo­ple … I get great sat­is­fac­tion in that.”

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