Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year

  • By National Football League
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Walter Payton's charitable legacy lives on with the NFL Man of the Year Award.

Walter Payton, affectionately known as "Sweetness," is considered one of the most prolific running backs in the history of American football. Raised in Columbia, Miss., Payton starred at Jackson State University of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. From 1971-74, he rushed for 3,563 yards and scored 66 total touchdowns.

Selected with the 4th overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft, Payton spent his entire professional career with the NFL's Chicago Bears. Throughout his illustrious 13-year career, Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and set several NFL records, including career rushing yards, touchdowns, attempts and 100 yard rushing games. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

In February 1999, Payton revealed that he was suffering from a rare liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis. Throughout his fight Payton remained valiant and encouraged Americans to become organ donors; bringing national attention to the cause. Following a courageous battle, Payton died on Nov. 1, 1999 at the age of 45.

Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas and Jason Witten are introduced by Jarrett, Brittney and Connie Payton during a presentation of the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Finalists at Super Bowl XLVII.
Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas and Jason Witten are introduced by Jarrett, Brittney and Connie Payton during a presentation of the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Finalists at Super Bowl XLVII. (National Football League)

Shortly after Payton's death, to honor his legacy as both a phenomenal player and humanitarian, the NFL Man of the Year Award was renamed the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Presented annually since 1970, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is granted to the player who demonstrates outstanding contributions to society off-the-field while handling himself in an exemplary fashion in uniform. The award's panel of judges includes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King and the previous year's recipient.

Walter Payton's charitable legacy endures today through the work of the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the emotional healing of neglected, abused and underprivileged children by providing tools and opportunities to build self-esteem and encouragement.

To learn more about the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation please visit

2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: Jason Witten

Throughout his 10-year NFL career, Dallas Cowboys tight end, Jason Witten has routinely been recognized for both his outstanding play and charitable efforts. An eight-time Pro Bowl player and one of the Cowboys' most prolific pass catchers, Witten displays the same passion off the field as he does on game day.

Witten's commitment to helping others continues to grow with each passing year. Since becoming a Cowboy in 2003, Witten has been actively involved with several non-profit organizations. He serves as the Dallas Cowboys spokesman for NFL PLAY 60 and works with Cowboys medical partners like GlaxoSmithKline and UnitedHealthcare to bring awareness to various youth health related initiatives.

Jason Witten is introduced as the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year prior to Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Jason Witten is introduced as the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year prior to Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (National Football League)

Through his own charitable endeavor, Jason Witten's SCORE Foundation (JWSF), Witten has launched numerous programs and funded several building projects in Texas and his native Tennessee. The SCOREkeepers program is a unique initiative which places full-time, trained male mentors in battered women's shelters throughout Texas. The mentors provide positive male role models to the children in these shelters in an effort to break the cycle of violence that plagues families affected by abuse. JWSF has placed SCOREkeepers in six shelters across Texas: The Family Place, SafeHaven, Family Violence Prevention Services, New Beginning Center, Denton County Friends of the Family and Safe Place. The foundation's newest domestic violence prevention program called "Coaching Boys Into Men," trains high school coaches to educate their players on the dangers of dating violence.

As the Cowboys NFL PLAY 60 representative, Jason has shown his commitment to youth health and wellness through various local and national media campaigns. He most recently joined Salvation Army youth and recording artist Kenny Chesney in filming a PSA and strengthened JWSF's youth fitness programing by launching Play.Move.SCORE, a program at Boys & Girls Clubs that gets kids active and eating healthy. His annual Football Camp in Tennessee also hosts approximately 1,200 kids each year and is one of the largest free football camps in America.

The Witten's make giving back a family affair and involve their children in the team's early Thanksgiving Day meal at The Salvation Army. They also underwrite and organize the Dallas Cowboys Women's Association's Christmas of Giving, benefiting families from The Family Place.

Additionally, Witten has built a Learning Center complete with a state-of-the-art recording studio at three Boys & Girls Clubs centers, one in East Dallas and two in Tennessee (Elizabethton and Knoxville). Jason and his wife, Michelle, also funded the construction of a Witten-themed waiting room at The Children's Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center in Johnson City, Tenn.

To learn more about Jason Witten's SCORE Foundation please visit

Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winners
Player, position
Jason Witten, tight end
Matt Birk, center
Madieu Williams, safety
Brian Waters, guard
Kurt Warner, quarterback
Jason Taylor, defensive end
Drew Brees, quarterback
LaDainian Tomlinson, running back
Peyton Manning, quarterback
Warrick Dunn, running back
Will Shields, guard
Troy Vincent, defensive back
Jerome Bettis, running back
Derrick Brooks, linebacker
Jim Flanigan, defensive lineman
Cris Carter, wide receiver
Dan Marino, quarterback
Troy Aikman, quarterback
Darrell Green, cornerback
Boomer Esiason, quarterback
Junior Seau, linebacker
Derrick Thomas, linebacker
John Elway, quarterback
Anthony Munoz, offensive tackle
Mike Singletary, linebacker
Warren Moon, quarterback
Houston Oilers
Steve Largent, wide receiver
Dave Duerson, safety
Reggie Williams, linebacker
Dwight Stephenson, center
Marty Lyons, defensive tackle
Rolf Benirschke, kicker
Joe Theismann, quarterback
Lynn Swann, wide receiver
Harold Carmichael, wide receiver
Joe Greene, defensive lineman
Roger Staubach, quarterback
Walter Payton, running back
Franco Harris, running back
Ken Anderson, quarterback
George Blanda, quarterback
Len Dawson, quarterback
Willie Lanier, linebacker
John Hadl, quarterback
Johnny Unitas, quarterback
Baltimore Colts


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