Winner to be Revealed at NFL Honors the Night Before Super Bowl LII

Carolina Panthers tight end GREG OLSEN, Baltimore Ravens tight end BENJAMIN WATSON 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

GREG OLSEN (Carolina Panthers)

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen along the team’s sideline during second-quarter action against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

“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.

BENJAMIN WATSON (Baltimore Ravens)

Jul 31, 2016; Owings Mills, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson (82) walks across the field during the morning session of training camp at Under Armour Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

“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 2016 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.

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.

Below is the list of previous Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winners. Of the award recipients, 28 players are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame inductees are indicated with asterisks:

2016 Larry Fitzgerald

Eli Manning

Arizona Cardinals

New York Giants

2015 Anquan Boldin San Francisco 49ers
2014 Thomas Davis Carolina Panthers
2013 Charles Tillman Chicago Bears
2012 Jason Witten Dallas Cowboys
2011 Matt Birk Baltimore Ravens
2010 Madieu Williams Minnesota Vikings
2009 Brian Waters Kansas City Chiefs
2008 *Kurt Warner Arizona Cardinals
2007 *Jason Taylor Miami Dolphins
2006 *LaDainian Tomlinson

Drew Brees

San Diego Chargers

New Orleans Saints

2005 Peyton Manning Indianapolis Colts
2004 Warrick Dunn Atlanta Falcons
2003 *Will Shields Kansas City Chiefs
2002 Troy Vincent Philadelphia Eagles
2001 *Jerome Bettis Pittsburgh Steelers
2000 *Derrick Brooks

Jim Flanigan

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Green Bay Packers

1999 *Cris Carter Minnesota Vikings
1998 *Dan Marino Miami Dolphins
1997 *Troy Aikman Dallas Cowboys
1996 *Darrell Green Washington Redskins
1995 Boomer Esiason New York Jets
1994 *Junior Seau San Diego Chargers
1993 *Derrick Thomas Kansas City Chiefs
1992 *John Elway Denver Broncos
1991 *Anthony Muñoz Cincinnati Bengals
1990 *Mike Singletary Chicago Bears
1989 *Warren Moon Houston Oilers
1988 *Steve Largent Seattle Seahawks
1987 Dave Duerson Chicago Bears
1986 Reggie Williams Cincinnati Bengals
1985 *Dwight Stephenson Miami Dolphins
1984 Marty Lyons New York Jets
1983 Rolf Benirschke San Diego Chargers
1982 Joe Theismann Washington Redskins
1981 *Lynn Swann Pittsburgh Steelers
1980 Harold Carmichael Philadelphia Eagles
1979 *Joe Greene Pittsburgh Steelers
1978 *Roger Staubach Dallas Cowboys
1977 *Walter Payton Chicago Bears
1976 *Franco Harris Pittsburgh Steelers
1975 Ken Anderson Cincinnati Bengals
1974 *George Blanda Oakland Raiders
1973 *Len Dawson Kansas City Chiefs
1972 *Willie Lanier Kansas City Chiefs
1971 John Hadl San Diego Chargers
1970 *Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts
1969 – Gladiator Award *Bart Starr Green Bay Packers


*The Gladiator Award was the precursor to the Man of the Year Award, which was established in 1970.

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