Heyward is Steelers Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee


It's something that is truly lacking in our world today. Something that is so simple, yet so hard to find. Something that is often missing in everyday life, yet desired and desperately needed by many.

Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward has changed that, though.

Now, don't think for one second that will have any impact on his play on the field. Not for a second. Opposing quarterbacks still stand no chance against Heyward, and his kindness won't be shared with them.

But when it comes to those in the Pittsburgh community, his kindness has been plentiful this season, and he isn't finished yet.

And that is why once again Heyward is the Steelers nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. This is the fifth time Heyward has been the Steelers' nominee, last nominated in 2021.

Every NFL team names a Man of the Year nominee, and they are all eligible to be the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide.

The award recognizes a player's off-the-field community service, as well as his playing excellence. And there is no doubt Heyward shines in both areas.

Heyward learned of his nomination during a team meeting when Steelers Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis, who won the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2001, surprised him to share the news.

"What I have seen from Cam is that his is a genuine commitment," said Bettis. "He's genuinely intertwined in his foundation. He is committed to it. He gets his teammates involved, and everybody wants to support what he's doing. That's a great sign of a leader, that he wants to step up in the community, but he also asks his teammates to step up as well, showing them the way.

"It's critically important to be that leader because this organization is one that was founded in the community, is part of the community, always has been part of the community. It's imperative and important that the players give of themselves to this community that supports them so much and gives so much to them. We have those leaders in this organization that understand that and continue to do that. Cam is doing that. I think it leaves a lasting legacy for this organization and for the players involved that."

Heyward has done so much in the past through the kindness of his heart, and in conjunction with his foundation, The Heyward House, but this year he took it even further.

He has done so much in the past through the kindness of his heart, and in conjunction with his foundation, The Heyward House, but this year he took it even further.

Heyward and The Heyward House launched Cam's Kindness Week the final week of September, a time for him to give back in multiple ways.

"There are a lot of guys in the league who give back," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I think where Cam stands out is his consistency. Year in and year out, he's been a consistent leader and role model on the field and in the community for the young players on this team. It's been special having a guy like that in our locker room for over a decade now."

Cam's Kindness Week was exactly what it sounded like, a full week of Heyward out in the community doing the big and small things that bring joy to others, showing the side of him away from the field that is all about spreading love and kindness.

"It was something a little bit different, something we could rally around," said Heyward. "Each different event spoke for itself. I liked grouping it together and showing anyone is capable of Cam's kindness. We can all have an impact.

"We have so much in our world where we are trying to put each other down instead of building each other up. I wanted everybody included in it, my brothers on the team, my family, my friends, my community. We can all give back. We can all have an impact on our community. We just have to all work together."

The week included a vast array of activities, but the bottom line is, what Heyward does in the community wasn't limited to just one week of kindness.

Not by a longshot.

"What he does on the field, everybody knows. What he does off the field is more important. It doesn't get noticed enough," said Charlotte Heyward, his mother, and the executive director of The Heyward House. "He is a better man than he is a football player. He is a better husband, father, brother, son, friend than he is a football player. I can't even say how proud I am of him as a human being."

It was a combined effort to pull off Cam's Kindness Week, with Heyward and his mother working with the Steelers to touch the Pittsburgh community, something Heyward takes pride in and hopes younger players in the locker room follow in his footsteps.

"It's about setting an example," said Heyward. "I had a fun time doing it. Hopefully, I set an example more people can follow, and we can keep giving back to our community.

"It was a great opportunity to give back to our community and set the tempo for how we want to give back. I want to show how much I care about my community.

"It's a blessing finding creative ways around Pittsburgh to not only give back, but inspire, take time to look at what our community needs. I don't like taking that for granted. It excites me."

Two of the main projects Heyward focused on during Cam's Kindness Week were ones near and dear to his heart, because they were developed because of his love for his family.

Craig's Closet has been a staple for The Heyward House since 2018, launched in honor of his late father, Craig 'Ironhead' Heyward, who died from a brain tumor in 2006, at just 39 years old.

His father played football at the University of Pittsburgh, and when he arrived as a freshman running back, he had only one suit, something he was grateful to at least have coming from a single-parent home with six siblings.

With so many young men in Pittsburgh facing the same challenge of not having a suit that they could wear to a job interview, internship, events and more, Heyward produced a plan. Craig's Closet provides free dress clothes to help young men as they move forward in life.

During his kindness week, Heyward launched the newest location for Craig's Closet at Pittsburgh's Barack Obama Academy of International Studies.

"The idea came from my dad," said Heyward. "When he grew up, he only had one suit. A lot of his friends didn't have suits at all. This is a creative way we thought of to give back to the community and help prepare young men for jobs, or homecoming, moving forward in life. You never know how much a suit can help you present yourself.

"We're just trying to prepare these kids for the future, helping any way we can. Many young people in our community face that same plight as my father. I want them to know they are seen, heard and through this program we are there to support them as they push forward with their future goals. We want to raise the student's level of confidence and sense of self. Like my dad used to always tell me, if you look good, you play good. Hopefully, we can do that as well. They will be able to wear the suits proudly at banquets, internships, and formal events with their heads held high.

"My dad was a man that took great joy and pride in his family and community. I am proud to continue his legacy of giving back and helping to move our community forward."

The newest installation of Craig's Closet at Barack Obama Academy is the first one done in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, but not the last. By the end of 2023 the plan is to have one installed in all of Pittsburgh Public Schools high school locations.

"Through Craig's Closet, high school male students will have access to free men's dress clothes for interviews, internships, banquets and more, so they feel confident walking into spaces where they most certainly belong," said Dr. Wayne Walters, Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. "Never will, 'I don't have anything to wear,' stop them from pursuing their passion and interest. I always said you have to look the part to be the part, and there is nothing more special than stepping into the space with total swagger.

"We are profoundly grateful for this gift of love from The Heyward House and Sports Clips. Giving the shirt off your back is the epitome of love. It's this kind of love that shows our students what they mean to all of us as adults."

Through the generosity of donations big and small, Craig's Closet is something that will continue to help young men in a manner Heyward never could have imagined.

"It just continues to grow," said Heyward. "The resources we have gained from so many different people helping us out, to the number of kids you see happy to have a suit or something to call their own. It speaks a lot to my dad, the work he did, the man he was. I think it speaks a lot to our community to give back and make sure the kids have suits."

Take a look at images of Steelers' 2022 WPMOY nominee Cameron Heyward giving back to the community

The other project he has fully wrapped his arms around is his Little Free Libraries, something that stemmed from his love of his grandparents.

Heyward initially honored his grandparents when he started the Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy Program, an initiative working to promote children's literacy and honor his grandparents, who were longtime educators in Pittsburgh.

As a part of the program, The Heyward House installed Little Free Libraries beginning in 2020 to help underserved communities in the Pittsburgh area and continue to do so.

Heyward was inspired to start the Little Free Libraries after his grandfather, who was known as 'Pup-Pup' to his grandkids, passed away in June 2020. Rufus had a love of reading and education was paramount to him, serving as a teacher at Carrick High School and then as a founder and Vice President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, a position he held for more than 35 years. In addition, his grandmother, Judy, was a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher for over 30 years before retiring.

Heyward has made sure the libraries are well stocked, delivering books of all kinds, including ones that touch on social justice, racial equality, financial literacy, and life skills topics.

"Not everyone can get to the library," said Heyward. "Not everyone has a library card. Providing people with an opportunity to learn is pretty cool. I grew up with a family that valued education, and I want to be able to provide for young kids and give them the literacy tools they need in the future."

Heyward visited the McKeesport Presbyterian Church's Head Start Program and read to the children enrolled in the program during his kindness week, and afterwards they painted the newest installment of his Little Free Libraries.

"We partnered with them to bring a Little Free Library outside of the church and had the opportunity to paint it with all of the young students," said Heyward. "Then I got to read them a book. I always had great teachers in my life that taught me how to reach, to thrive in school. It's inspiring kids to read, improve their literacy. Every kid should have a book they can read."

There were plenty of other events that packed Cam's Kindness Week, keeping him busy and keeping him smiling continuously.

Heyward, along with linebacker T.J. Watt, spent time at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, visiting the Dream Big Studio where they were the celebrity hosts of their "What's in the Box" game show. While he was unable to visit the kids in person because of continuing COVID protocols, the kids were all able to watch the game show and participate virtually.

"It was awesome," said Heyward. "I was a kid in Children's Hospital at one time too. You just want to do anything they need. Whether it's a laugh, a joke, a smile on their face. Someone to talk to. You never know what those interactions are going to mean. Sometimes you just need a smile on your face."

And he continued to bring smiles when he visited Angels' Place on Pittsburgh's North Side, an agency that offers family centered childcare services and early education programs at no cost, or significantly reduced rates, to qualifying parents.

"I think it's awesome this service and organization is available," said Heyward. "In our climate, with so many things going on today, the needs of children are paramount. It's good to know this service is offered and parents don't have to make choices about paying bills or getting their kids the best care."

Heyward helped to provide some simple pleasure with a donation of early learning toys to help make their growth a fun and positive experience.

"It means everything to us," said Adrienne Britt, Education Director at Angels' Place on the North Side. "Our parents were so excited. He was so great with the kids. I loved his interactions with everyone. He was so kind with the parents. It was a natural feeling.

"This is such a huge blessing to our families being that they are single parents, providing them with extra resources. They are forever thankful and grateful for everything that comes with Angels' Place, and especially for having Cam."

The week wasn't going to go by without a little bit of sweat and hard work, as Heyward and his teammates went to Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden in East Liberty, where his grandmother still lives, for an afternoon of cleanup and building a pathway to make the area easier to access.

The Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden was developed in 2012, turning an abandoned lot into an urban garden by Repair the World Pittsburgh.

"People come out to this area and give back, donate their time, cleaning up, planting new trees," said Heyward. "The food then gets to the food pantry and provides for people in need. There are so many things that go into it and being a part of it means a lot.

"You take pride in your community. So many people use this area, so many people interact in this area. You should want to take care of it and be proud of where you are from."

The final part of Cam's Kindness Week was a $10,000 check presentation to the Girls Flag Football League in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have worked closely with the league in Pittsburgh, launching a program to encourage high schools in Pennsylvania to sanction girls flag football.

"It's cool to see the way women's sports continue to pick up," said Heyward. "I want to be an advocate for that. Football in Pittsburgh has always been big. I am excited I got to meet some of the girls and let them know I want to support everything they do."

And that is what his week was all about, and what Heyward is about in general, supporting those in the community he now calls home.

"When I was a kid, I was a part of this community," said Heyward. "I would come here every summer and live with my grandparents. The community always showed generosity and were always kind to me. I wanted to give back to the community that helped raise me and where I now live and work.

"That's all kids ask for, and all everyone asks for, is someone to be kind to them. Someone to spend a little extra time with them. Everybody has a different situation. It's about being there for them and being kind."

As mentioned, it wasn't just one week. Heyward's kindness and desire to give back are a year-round venture.

Heyward hosted his annual Thanksgiving food distribution, holding it at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, helping 200 families receive everything they needed for a Thanksgiving meal.

"I want to be a part of my community," said Heyward. "I want to make sure I give back. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, they have a market where people can shop and don't have to worry about the stigma of getting food in a different way. It's an awesome opportunity to give back to my community and this is one of the ways to do it.

"It's very important around the holidays. Everybody wants to spend time with their families, and this takes one thing off what you're worried about, whether it's the food you have, so you can sit around the table and enjoy each other. Hopefully we can provide that today."

As a member of the Steelers Social Justice Committee, Heyward has been involved with every aspect, from events to social justice donations the team makes, leading the way in that category.

Heyward recently hosted a screening of the movie, 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,' the sequel to 'Black Panther,' as part of the social justice film program.

Over 600 students from Pittsburgh Public Schools, as a part of a partnership with the Steelers, 1HOOD, Homewood Children's Village, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, Homeless Children's Education Fund, A+ Schools, and Movie Scene Queen, are seeing the movie for free over two days, with a group of them taking part in the discussion with Heyward.

"I think it's awesome providing kids not only the opportunity to see movies, but to see people of color in these really cool roles is huge," said Heyward. "Then to be able to talk to them, it goes a long way. We talk to them about what built up to the movie, what transpires and just understanding people of color can thrive in these really cool opportunities."

The program was launched in 2021 by the team's Social Justice Committee, with players joining youth from local schools and community groups, giving them an opportunity to talk about issues in society that are currently impacting them.

"To see the positive side and find the silver lining is important," said Heyward. "We provide different ways of how we can continue to have talks and grow."