When asked to describe the average NFL player, many of us think: muscles for days, huge multi-million dollar paychecks, maybe a little bad behavior, add water and stir.
While it’s true pro athletes will probably bench press more weights in a season than most of us will in a lifetime and the average NFL salary is $2 million, many defy stereotypes and use their hero status for the good of their communities.
The NFL Honors award show recognizes some of those players on Super Bowl eve. Each year, all 32 NFL teams nominate an athlete who’s had a positive impact through volunteer work and service. One of them will be named the Walter Payton Man of the Year and will receive a $55,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice.
In celebration of the Super Bowl’s golden anniversary, we look at some of the 2016 finalists and notable winners from years past who are rich, ripped and righteous — past and present.
ANQUAN BOLDIN [2016 Finalist]
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Why: Typically, universities establish endowment funds through the support of numerous alumni donors. Boldin was able to create one of his own with a $1 million pledge that will send underprivileged kids to college through his Q’81 Foundation. Since 2010, Boldin has also worked with Oxfam America, taking overseas trips to Ethiopia and Senegal. He later used his testimony at the White House to lobby for Senegalese rights.
BENJAMIN WATSON [2016 Finalist]
Team: New Orleans Saints
Why: Who says politics and sports don’t mix? Watson recently released his first book entitled, “Under Our Skin,” based on a Facebook post he wrote during the Ferguson riots. Watson uses his celebrity to voice his opinion on race and society. The Saints tight end also hosts the annual Big BENefit, where 25 families are selected by the New Orleans Family Justice Center to participate in a shopping spree to buy household items and Christmas toys.
JASON TAYLOR [2007 Finalist]
Team: Miami Dolphins
Why: We swooned over him during Season 6 of Dancing with the Stars. This ESPN analyst became “the man” for programs he created to benefit young kids in South Florida, when he played with the Dolphins for 13 seasons. He’s retired from football and dancing but The Jason Taylor Foundation is still creating champions. Taylor’s team uses spoken word competitions to encourage youth literacy while his after school program addresses academic challenges among inner-city kids. In a partnership with Old Navy, the foundation has awarded over $200,000 in clothing through the “Cool Gear for the School Year” campaign.
TROY VINCENT [2002 Finalist]
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Why: Vincent is currently executive vice president of football operations for the NFL. On any given Sunday, he’s overseeing the integrity of the game, on-field discipline and player personnel. He’s been involved with community service on the streets of Philadelphia — where he once played — to the walls of the boardroom. As an athlete, Vincent was honored for his work teaching young adults ways to stay away from a life of crime. As an executive, he continues to give back by sitting on numerous boards including the United Negro College Fund and Advocates for Athletic Equality.
CHRIS CARTER [1992 Finalist]
Team: Minnesota Vikings
Why: Carter is now an NFL analyst for ESPN but in 1996, he became an ordained minister. He used football as a platform to share his testimony on how he overcame addiction. His speeches to youth groups, churches and athletic associations earned him the Man of the Year title 17 years ago. Carter continues doing charitable work with his brother, John, through the Carter Brothers Charities. It’s a family affair supporting victims of domestic violence and the homeless. Chris is also a mentor in President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program.
“MEAN” JOE GREENE [1979 Finalist]
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Why: Greene became a household name after appearing in a 1979 Coca-Cola commercial — often voted one of the best Super Bowl ads of all-time. Joe accepts a Coke from a star struck boy and tosses his #75 jersey, delivering the now famous line: “Hey, kid, catch!” Joe won the Man of the Year Award for his work with numerous charities in the Pittsburgh area. Today, he works with the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which raises money to help former NFL players in need.
WALTER PAYTON [1977 Finalist]
Team: Chicago Bears
Why: Known by the nickname “Sweetness” for his Pro Football Hall of Fame career and his generous off-the-field spirit, the NFL renamed the Man of the Year Award after Payton in 1999. At age 45, Peyton passed away from a rare liver disease but his charitable legacy lives on through the Walter & Connie Payton Foundation. His wife and children continue to raise money for student scholarships given to neglected, abused and underprivileged children.
The 2016 Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient will be announced during NFL Honors, airing Feb. 6, from 9-11pm ET on CBS.