Three community-minded NFL players will be recognized during Super Bowl week as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, it was announced today. Thomas Davis of the Carolina Panthers, Jay Feely of the Arizona Cardinals and Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears are the top candidates for this year's award, named for the legendary Bears running back who died in 1999.
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is the only league award that recognizes a player's off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced in New York, the site of Super Bowl XLVIII, during the third annual NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 8-10 p.m. ET on FOX.
Recent winners of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award include Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys, Matt Birk, then of the Baltimore Ravens (2011) and Madieu Williams, then of the Minnesota Vikings (2010).
The three finalists were chosen from among the 32 team nominees for the award, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, 2012 winner Jason Witten and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by the noted sculptor, Daniel Schwartz. In addition, the player's favorite charity will receive an additional $20,000 donation in his name.
Selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Davis has spent his entire 9-year professional career with the Panthers. A three-year captain, Davis successfully returned to the field of play following three ACL reconstructions in the same knee. His return propelled the 2013 Panthers to a second-ranked defense, a NFC South title and a No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Davis' play on the field also earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for November. He set or tied career highs for tackles, sacks, interceptions and passes defensed.
Davis transitions his energy and leadership on the field directly into the community. In 2007, he and his wife Kelly founded the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), a non-profit dedicated to providing and promoting free programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families annually. The foundation's cornerstone program, the Youth Leadership Academy, is a 14-week afterschool mentoring program for low-income middle school students. Davis annually provides two college scholarships for graduating high school seniors who have completed the Youth Leadership Academy program. The TDDDF hosts annual programs including a back-to-school supply giveaway, a Thanksgiving meal at a battered women's shelter and a Christmas gift giveaway for underprivileged children, both in Charlotte and in Davis' hometown in Georgia.
This past June, Davis led the construction of the first and only playground in his small rural hometown of Shellman, GA. In addition, his annual free football camp provides over 350 children with instruction in football basics with a focus on life skills. Davis is active in the Panthers PLAY 60 efforts and is an ongoing supporter of the team's pediatric hospital visits. In 2013, Davis was voted by his teammates as the Carolina Panthers nominee for the Byron "Whizzer" White Award, the NFLPA's annual award for on and off the field dedication.
With 1,437 career points since entering the league in 2001, kicker Feely is one of the NFL's top-five active scorers and has appeared in 207 of a possible 208 regular season games in his 13 seasons. One of just eight players in NFL history with at least seven game-winning overtime field goals in their career, Feely finished the 2013 season with 127 points, which represents the second-highest single-season point total in franchise history. During a memorable performance in a 2010 victory over the Broncos, Feely became the first player in the Super Bowl era (post 1967) to score 22 consecutive points in a game (5 FGs, TD, PAT).
Since joining the Cardinals in 2010, Feely has been an active participant in the Arizona community. He is a supporter and regular visitor at the Phoenix Ronald McDonald House and was recently honored with the "Game Changer" award at the Phoenix Rescue Mission for his years of service and dedication. Feely is also a supporter of the House of Refuge, a non-profit organization helping homeless families and individuals as they strive towards self-sufficiency and seek to obtain permanent housing. Along with his family, Jay created the Feely Family Foundation which focuses on the protection, education and rehabilitation of children.
Feely's charitable contributions extend beyond the U.S., including regular trips to Haiti as part of relief efforts following the devastating earthquake in 2010. While in Haiti, Feely has taken part in the process of rebuilding a church that was destroyed by the earthquake while also working with an orphanage outside of Port Au Prince to bring clothes and other goods for donation.
"I feel like the biggest advantage you have as a professional athlete is the opportunity to give back," Feely said of being named the Cardinals 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year. "People look to you to be a leader, but also look at you in a certain way just because you are an athlete. I think you can use that to your advantage to have an impact on people."
Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears)
Cornerback Charles Tillman has distinguished himself as one of the NFL's top defensive backs during his outstanding 11-year career with the Chicago Bears. Since entering the NFL in 2003, he is tied for fifth in interceptions, fifth in interception return yards, tied for second in interception return touchdowns, second in forced fumbles, fifth in pass break ups and is the only player during that time with 30-plus interceptions and 30-plus forced fumbles. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Tillman ranks third in Bears franchise history with 36 interceptions, and is the franchise leader in defensive return touchdowns, interception return touchdowns and interception return yards.
A finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2011 and the winner of the NFL Salute to Service Award in 2012, Tillman's contributions off of the field are equally as impressive as his work on it. Tillman continues to have an impact on millions of people in the Chicago area through his Cornerstone Foundation and its many programs. Charles' Locker provides pediatric hospital patients with access to iPads, laptops, gaming systems and other kinds of entertainment to help pass the time during their hospital stays and annually reaches more than 370,000 children. The Tiana Fund has distributed more than $1 million to over 300 families who have been identified by local organizations as at-risk or in-need. The support is provided to families and individuals to strengthen their ability to care for themselves, enhance their stability and security and improve their quality of life.
Tillman and his wife, Jackie, also contribute their time and resources to local, national and international organizations outside of the Cornerstone Foundation. The Tillmans have helped build a school in Cambodia, sponsored children through the Urban Promise program in Camden, New Jersey, and have purchased and donated over 700 tickets to Bears home games since 2008 through the Bears Home Team Hand-Off program. Tillman is also an avid supporter of our military and has participated in a USO tour to Iraq, volunteered with the USO of Illinois on Thanksgiving to serve meals to local troops, and provided soldiers with tickets to games at Soldier Field during the 2013 season.