HINES WARD, JASON TAYLOR, BRIAN WATERS, JASON WITTEN
NAMED FINALISTS FOR WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD
WINNER TO BE NAMED AT SUPER BOWL XLII
Four community-minded NFL players will be recognized during Super Bowl week as finalists for the WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD, it was announced today. Steelers WR HINES WARD, Dolphins DE JASON TAYLOR, Chiefs G BRIAN WATERS and Cowboys TE JASON WITTEN are the top candidates for this year's award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999.
The four finalists were announced today during FOX's telecast of the NFC Championship game. For the first time in the award's 37-year history, the winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced live before Super Bowl XLII, on FOX on February 3. Ward, Taylor, Waters and Witten will be in the Phoenix area during Super Bowl week and participate in a press conference on Friday, February 1, with the late Walter Payton's wife, CONNIE PAYTON.
On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the four finalists will join an esteemed list of winners of the annual award, including 17 Pro Football Hall of Famers, that are recognized for their excellence both on the field and in their communities. Recent winners of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award include DREW BREES of the New Orleans Saints and LADAINIAN TOMLINSON of the San Diego Chargers, co-winners in 2006, PEYTON MANNING of the Indianapolis Colts (2005) and WARRICK DUNN of the Atlanta Falcons (2004). A complete list of winners is below.
The four finalists were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel from the 32 team nominees for the award, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The four finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL, former NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE, Pro Football Hall of Famer ANTHONY MUÑOZ, Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King, football greats FRANK GIFFORDand JACK KEMP, 2006 co-winners DREW BREES and LADAINIAN TOMLINSONand CONNIE PAYTON.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the distinctive Gladiator statue, an original art creation by the noted sculptor, DANIEL SCHWARTZ. In addition, the player's favorite charity will receive a $25,000 donation in his name.
In 2006, after traveling to Korea, his birthplace, Ward established the Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation, which assists biracial children in Korea who face discrimination. Ward, who started the foundation as a tribute to his mother, donated $1 million of his own funds to establish the foundation and raised another $1.5 million through corporate contributions. During both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he hosted eight Korean children for a weekend in the Pittsburgh area. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowl player and three-time team MVP, was named MVP of Super Bowl XL. He is a frequent participant in the NFL's annual Take a Player to School program.
"Being selected as a finalist for the 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year is a tremendous honor for me and for my foundation," said Ward. "My charitable efforts dually represent the values that my mother instilled in me as a young child and my desire to make the world a better place for all children, in particular those of mixed race who face discrimination in Korea. I hope my nomination raises even more awareness of this cause that is so near and dear to my heart."
Taylor, the Dolphins' all-time career sack leader and six-time Pro Bowl selection, established the Jason Taylor Foundation (JTF) in 2004 with a mission of creating programs that assist South Florida's children in need by focusing on improved health care, education and quality of life. In 2007, the JTF launched the 'Jason Taylor Reading Room' in Miramar, FL, an after-school program designed to address illiteracy among inner-city youth. Taylor also contributed $50,000 to the Holtz Children's Hospital in Miami to support the 'Jason Taylor Children's Learning Center,' a recreational and educational hub for hospitalized children.
"Walter Payton represented everything that is great about our game, so to be considered for an award bearing his name is truly an honor," said Taylor. "We have hundreds of players in the NFL who are doing amazing things in their communities every day, so it means a lot to me and our Foundation to be recognized among that group."
Waters created the Brian Waters 54 Foundation in 2005 to provide opportunities for underprivileged children and families in his hometown of Waxahachie, TX as well as his playing city of Kansas City. Brian served as the title sponsor for Waxahachie Pee Wee Football, contributing $100,000 over a four-year period to revitalize the program. He also volunteers regularly at The Promise House in Dallas, which serves homeless, runaway and at-risk youth along with their families. Promise House children were a part of an NFL United Way Public Service Announcement featuring Brian and encouraging volunteerism. Brian acts as co-chairman in representing the Chiefs offensive linemen in their First Downs for Down Syndrome initiative, and is one of the spokesmen for the Chiefs "Think Pink Campaign," raising money and awareness for breast cancer research.
"What a humbling honor," said Waters, a three time Pro Bowl choice. "All of my accomplishments on the field would mean nothing if I couldn't contribute to my community. For me, the gridiron serves a greater purpose."
Witten recently launched the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation, established in part to provide support and assistance for those families and individuals affected by domestic violence. Like Waters, he also appeared in an NFL/United Way PSA about the importance of volunteering. The spot was filmed at Witten's annual free football camp in his hometown of Elizabethton, TN. In 2007, more than 1,000 children attended the camp, coming from states as far as Georgia and Pennsylvania. As part of NFL's commitment to getting kids healthy and active, Witten starred alongside Reggie Bush and Antonio Gates in a PSA for the NFL's PLAY 60 program, which emphasizes the importance of getting kids up and active for at least 60 minutes a day. Witten will play in his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl this February and is just one of 10 tight ends in NFL history to make at least 60 receptions in three consecutive seasons.
"What I do on the field is important and my job, but I know that playing for the Dallas Cowboys and in the National Football League has afforded me the unique opportunity to contribute off the field— to make a difference in the lives of those in need," said Witten. "To be a finalist is a great honor and I am proud just to be mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Payton. I respect and admire what he stood for—as an NFL player and in his life away from the game."