Baltimore Ravens tight end BENJAMIN WATSON, Carolina Panthers tight end GREG OLSEN and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. WATT are the three finalists for the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide, the NFL announced today.
The winner will be announced during NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the eve of Super Bowl LII, at 9 PM (ET and PT) on NBC. NFL Honors will be taped earlier that evening at Northrop at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“Greg, Benjamin and J.J. have changed countless lives with their generosity and commitment to helping others,” said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL. “As remarkable leaders on and off the field, they personify the character of the late Walter Payton. We commend them for using their platforms to leave a positive impact on communities across the country.”
$500,000 dollars will be donated in the name of the 2017 winner. $250,000 will be donated to the winner’s charity of choice and $250,000 will be donated in his name to expand Character Playbook across the country. The two other finalists will each receive a $100,000 donation to their charity of choice and a $100,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook. All other 29 nominees will receive a $50,000 donation to their charity of choice and an additional $50,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
Below is a brief overview on the three finalists. To read their full nominations or to learn more about all 32 team nominees, visit nfl.com/manoftheyear.
BENJAMIN WATSON (Baltimore Ravens)
“You don’t have to spend much time with Benjamin to understand his passion for serving others,” said Ravens owner STEVE BISCIOTTI. “He is an exceptional person who has a unique ability to lead, educate and inspire. For him to be honored with this award is outstanding. He never looks for recognition, but he certainly deserves it.”
Benjamin assists countless people through his charitable arm, the One More Foundation. One More’s mission is to bless individuals wherever they are, whether supporting existing charities or initiating programs of its own. Most recently, One More partnered with the International Justice Mission (IJM). In partnership with IJM, the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor, the Watsons joined the global fight to end the scourge of sex trafficking. This effort was highlighted in April during a three-day trip to Lebanon, where Benjamin witnessed firsthand the Middle East’s refugee crisis. Additionally, he and his wife, Kirsten, traveled to the Dominican Republic in June to begin formulating plans that combat sex trafficking.
Benjamin also annually hosts the Big BENefit – an event that offers 25 underserved families an opportunity to provide holiday gifts for their children. Each parent is brought to a local Walmart and is surprised with dinner and a $300 gift card to shop with their favorite Raven. Benjamin also started a campaign with the fundraising platform, Donors Choose, where One More matches all donations raised. This year’s contributions go directly to benefit local schools in Baltimore, allowing teachers to purchase tools – books, art supplies, iPads – that enhance their children’s educational experience.
Coming off a season-ending Achilles injury that sidelined him in 2016, Benjamin was back in full force on the field, as he led the Ravens with 61 catches for 522 yards and four touchdowns. Completing his 14th NFL season, he has played in 179 career games to produce 495 receptions for 5,485 yards and 42 touchdowns. Benjamin was also named recipient of the 2017 Bart Starr Award, given annually to the NFL player who exemplifies character and leadership on and off the field. In 2015, he was a Man of the Year finalist while with the Saints, while he was also honored as one of five finalists for the NFLPA’s Whizzer White Award.
GREG OLSEN (Carolina Panthers)
“I was fortunate enough to have played with Walter Payton for several years,” said Panthers head coach RON RIVERA. “And Greg shares many of the same qualities that made Walter so special. Greg’s commitment as a husband, father and community servant reflects Walter’s loving spirit. And the tenacity in which he plays is indicative of Payton’s toughness on the field. I can think of no other player who is as deserving as Greg.”
In 2009, after watching his mother tackle and survive breast cancer, Greg Olsen founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. The Foundation’s Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research and education programming.
In early 2013, Greg and his wife Kara founded the HEARTest Yard Fund after a routine examination of their unborn son, T.J., revealed the infant had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a congenital defect marked by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta. The HEARTest Yard Fund, , an umbrella program under Olsen’s Receptions for Research Foundation, is a family service program administered in conjunction with Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. The cutting-edge program provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital. In November 2017, the HEARTest Yard’s cutting-edge programming expanded when Greg and Kara announced the initiative’s new cardiac neurodevelopmental program – the first of its kind in the region. Since 2009, Receptions for Research has distributed over $3.5 million in support.
In February 2013, Greg traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to lobby the House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went in to effect in July 2014. In 2016, the family donated $150,000 to purchase new pediatric bypass pumps for the cardiac ICU. Greg was also a driving force in creating the hospital’s signature fundraising gala in 2015. In just three years, the gala has raised nearly $4 million.
On the field, Greg is one of the NFL’s best tight ends. A four-time team captain and three-time Pro Bowler, he is the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2014-16). Greg ranks in the top 10 all-time in receptions (625) and receiving yards (7,393) and is approaching the top 10 in receiving touchdowns among NFL tight ends.
J.J. WATT (Houston Texans)
“We have long been proud and appreciative of J.J.’s passion and authentic care for others as he has consistently given back to the community, created memories for all ages and positively impacted lives around the world,” said Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer ROBERT C. MCNAIR. “J.J. is one of the most selfless, giving and inspiring young men in the NFL and we are proud he is a Houston Texan. During one of Houston’s worst disasters, J.J. was our shining light after raising more than $37 million for victims affected by Hurricane Harvey. We congratulate him on being named a finalist for this year’s Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.”
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, J.J. Watt solidified his importance to the city of Houston by being an unwavering fixture of hope. While watching the events unfold from a hotel room in Dallas, J.J. posted a video on social media announcing a fundraising campaign with a very reasonable goal of $200,000, to which he matched the first $100,000. In 19 days, he raised more than $37 million. J.J. has dedicated himself to finding organizations that will apply the funds in the way he has promised the donors and victims of Harvey. J.J. will soon unfold a plan with strategic organizations, making good on his promise to ensure that every dollar goes directly to the people of Houston and its surrounding areas that are in need.
J.J.’s dedication to charitable service began at a young age when the thought of being in the NFL was still just a dream. He started the Justin J. Watt Foundation in Wisconsin in 2010 out of a desire to help underserved kids. His personal motto of “Dream Big, Work Hard” culminated into a mission that he continues to use to impact communities nationwide. The foundation has provided over $3.4 million in funding to middle schools and organizations that have insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs or no after-school athletics whatsoever for 6th – 8th grade children.
In his 7th NFL season, J.J. has been named to the Pro Bowl 4 times and is a 4-time first-team All-Pro. Leading the league in sacks in 2012 and 2015, J.J. was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both those years and in 2014 as well. J.J. has played in 88 games for the Texans and recorded a total of 394 tackles and 76 sacks.