James Conner is the Steelers nominee for the sixth annual Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, presented to a player for his outstanding sportsmanship on the field, including fair play, respect for the game, and integrity in competition.
While he might only be in his third season, Conner has a respect for the game and what it means that is far beyond his NFL experience. And part of that came from the way he battled back in college to overcome Hodgkin lymphoma and injuries, as well as battling since he has been in the NFL, never taking anything for granted.
Conner was one of the Steelers third-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft and it didn't take him long to make an impact, selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2018.
He has a quiet manner, not brash or showy, simply playing the game in a manner Art Rooney Sr., the Steelers founder and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who the award was named for, would appreciate.
"Art Rooney is an iconic figure in NFL history," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the time the award was introduced. "It is appropriate that we honor his legacy in this way and recognize NFL players for one of the important values that Mr. Rooney represented so well."
Conner has quickly become a go-to guy not just in the running backs room, but for other young players on the team, providing leadership, and helping to instill his strong values in them.
One player from every team was nominated for the award, and eight finalists, four in each conference, will be selected by members of the NFL Legends Community, including Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.
Current players will have the final say, with them voting on the winner from the eight finalists, although they can't vote for their teammate. The winner is announced during the NFL Honors show the night before Super Bowl LIV.
The winner will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice and the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Trophy, which represents the key role sportsmanship plays in the game and how NFL players who demonstrate integrity and honor on the field serve as role models.
"It is gratifying that sportsmanship is the category," said Steelers President Art Rooney II when the award was first announced. "It's appropriate. I like to think of my grandfather as someone who truly was a good sport, somebody who cared about the respect and the integrity of the game. The fact it's being voted on by the players, well, the recipient can feel good about it because it's voted on by his peers."
Here is a list of the past recipients of the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award:
|2018||QB Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints|
|2017||LB Luke Kuechly||Carolina Panthers|
|2016||RB Frank Gore||Indianapolis Colts|
|2015||CB Charles Woodson||Oakland Raiders|
|2016||WR Larry Fitzgerald||Arizona Cardinals|