When Carolina tight end Greg Olsen and Kansas City safety Eric Berry had life-changing experiences away from football, the logical next step was finding ways to help the causes that helped them.
That’s the legacy of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award — players using their platforms to raise money for issues that are important to them.
The league announced the nominees from each team Wednesday. Finalists will be selected in January, and the winner will be named the night before the Super Bowl at the “NFL Honors” show.
Olsen’s cause is to provide resources to improve the survival rate between surgeries for infants with a heart condition similar to the one his son T.J. had.
Berry has added cancer care to his list of priorities after he was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to step away from the game late in the 2014 season.
Both are among the 32 nominees for the 2015 Payton award, which was renamed for the late Chicago Bears running back in 1999, the same year the 1977 Man of the Year winner died of a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer.
“Everything under the sun that these babies tend to struggle in, we would provide some of expert in their field to be in your home to help you take care of it,” Olsen said. “We feel like this is the most tangible, direct thing to impact that percentage and changes these babies lives forever.”
Olsen created a program with a children’s hospital in Charlotte called “The Heartest Yard.” Berry, who already had a program to help impoverished people in Uganda, spent more time in hospitals with cancer patients.
“Me going through that situation, I was able to relate a lot more to people and being able to talk to kids and just let them know what I was going through,” Berry said. “That gave me a new avenue to where I could help.”
Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, the 2014 Payton winner, founded a nonprofit that provides free programs to underprivileged children and their families. His foundation provides two college scholarships for high school seniors and had back-to-school and Christmas giveaways along with a program to provide Thanksgiving meals.
The NFL has dealt with lots of negative coverage about players over the past two years, including high-profile domestic violence cases and substance abuse issues. The man of the year program gives the league a chance to showcase players who have worked to help their communities.
Charles Tillman, the 2013 winner with Chicago, focused primarily on providing hospitalized children various forms of entertainment. Dallas tight end Jason Witten, the 2012 recipient, has a foundation that focuses on domestic violence. His mother was a victim of an abusive husband when Witten was growing up.
“They’ve given such a platform in the NFL to do so many good things, and it’s nice to see when guys step up to the plate and do something they’re passionate about,” said Lindsey Jackson, the wife of Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson. The Buccaneers’ 2015 nominee focuses his charitable work on spouses and children in military families.
The team-by-team list of 2015 Payton award nominees:
Arizona: Patrick Peterson
Atlanta: Patrick DiMarco
Baltimore: Steve Smith Sr.
Buffalo: Eric Wood
Carolina: Greg Olsen
Chicago: Matt Forte
Cincinnati: Carlos Dunlap
Cleveland: Gary Barnidge
Dallas: Brandon Carr
Denver: David Bruton Jr.
Detroit: Stephen Tulloch
Green Bay: Sam Barrington
Houston: J.J. Watt
Indianapolis: Dwayne Allen
Jacksonville: Zane Beadles
Kansas City: Eric Berry
Miami: Ryan Tannehill
Minnesota: Chad Greenway
New England: Devin McCourty
New Orleans: Benjamin Watson
New York Giants: Eli Manning
New York Jets: Eric Decker
Oakland: Justin Tuck
Philadelphia: Connor Barwin
Pittsburgh: Cameron Heyward
San Diego: Darrell Stuckey
San Francisco: Anquan Boldin
Seattle: Richard Sherman
St. Louis: Chris Long
Tampa Bay: Vincent Jackson
Tennessee: Delanie Walker
Washington: Ryan Kerrigan
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
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