The National Football League has been under incredible scrutiny for the majority of the 2014/15 season. The league dreadfully mishandled Ray Rice’s domestic violence case, and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse incident. Now “Deflategate” is the latest media-darling of a scandal.
Whether or not the league handled these incidents correctly is still an open discussion, regardless though, an ugly light is being shined upon our nation’s favorite professional sports league. Two of football’s highest-profile players missed an entire year due to off-the-field violence incidents, and that is downright embarrassing.
I could spend an entire article attacking the media and league’s latest antic, the endless harassment of Seattle Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch. Better yet, I could talk about the widely blown out of proportion “scandal” that is “Deflategate” (by the way, I despise the Patriots, so my defense of them is really saying something). But instead, I would like to focus on something positive.
In a league that appears so tainted, people often forget about the good things that many of the NFL’s star-athletes do. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is, in my honest opinion, the most honorable award that an NFL player can win. It awards not only on the field excellence, but a player’s volunteer and charity work. The winning player is a man who exemplifies what it means to be a role model. It is a man who dedicates his free time to give back to the communities that make the league so popular.
Walter Payton is considered, without question, one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the NFL. What made him stand out off the field though, was his constant dedication to give back to his community, and to make a difference. Payton recognized that he was truly blessed to be in the position he was, and took every opportunity he had to enhance the lives of others. In 1999, after his death, the award’s name was changed from NFL Man of the Year to its current name in his honor.
The winning player gets $25,000 donated to a charity of his choosing. Additionally, the 31 other finalists (one chosen from each team) get $1,000 donated to charities of their choice. The winner is chosen from a panel that includes the previous years winner, Roger Goodell, and Walter Payton’s wife Connie. Previous winners of the award include some of the game’s great stars: Warren Moon, John Elway, Cris Carter, Jerome Bettis, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Kurt Warner (who was awarded the trophy minutes before starting in the Super Bowl). The list goes on and on, but also features the names of a few lesser-known players, such as 2010 winner Madieu Williams.
The point is, many of the leagues biggest stars, and up-and-comers, are doing amazing things in their community. People often make the assumption that NFL players are ungrateful, selfish punks. The media feeds on stories about the terrible things that a small minority of players do, and hypes up anything that can cause a scandal (see: Deflategate). The people that should be honored though, are those who put in their time off the field, as well as on it.
This year’s Man of the Year finalists are Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, and 49ers wide-receiver Anquan Boldin. Davis is a finalist for the second consecutive year, having “lost” to Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears last season.
Rodgers, who will most likely be this year’s league MVP, finds the time to work with children suffering from childhood cancer. He has risen over $5 million for organizations that help these kids. Boldin works with people from all over the world; providing gifts, scholarships, medicine, and microfinance help. Among the semi-finalists were Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty, and Titans cornerback Jason McCourty; the two are twin brothers.
There is certainly a behavioral problem with some of today’s biggest NFL stars. From drug arrests to DUIs, athletes often act in ways that are detrimental to themselves and others. But a large majority of these players are good people, and some of the league’s greatest stars do more to help communities than should ever be expected of them.
This year’s award will be presented on Saturday, January 31st at the NFL Award Show. But regardless of the winner, all of the semi-finalists deserve high praise from their respective teams. Kudos to those athletes that act as positive role models for the kids who idolize them, and who work just as hard off the field as they do on it.