Panthers TE Greg Olsen among NFL Man of Year nominees

By: BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer

Updated:

NEW YORK - Greg Olsen, J.J. Watt, Malcolm Jenkins and Alex Smith are among the 32 nominees for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award given by the NFL.

Each team nominates one man for the award, which honors a player's work away from the game and his demeanor during play.

A selection panel is asked to vote for players based on involvement in the community and performance on the playing field.

Finalists are announced in January during halftime of the AFC championship game and the winner will be revealed at NFL Honors, when The Associated Press announces its individual award winners, on the night before the Super Bowl.

The panel consists of Commissioner Roger Goodell; NFL Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility Anna Isaacson; Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, who won the award in 2006; last year's winners, Larry Fitzgerald and Eli Manning; representatives from NBC, Fox, CBS and ESPN; two national sports writers; Connie Payton, Walter's widow; Brian Gallagher, the CEO of United Way Worldwide; and Terrance Williams, the CMO of Nationwide, which is the presenting sponsor of the award.

On the field, Olsen is one of the NFL’s best tight ends. A five-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). Olsen ranks in the top 10 all-time in receptions (626) and receiving yards (7,403) and is approaching the top 10 in receiving touchdowns (52), among NFL tight ends, the Panthers said in a news release.

It is no surprise that Olsen is a dependable, tough performer since his mom is also known for her tenacity and resolve. In 2009, after watching his mother tackle and survive breast cancer, Olsen founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. His mission through the foundation is to ensure that everyone has a “second chance at life,” just like his mother. 

The foundation’s Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research, support and education programming. The program has distributed over $660,000 to six hospitals and foundations across the US since 2009, with funding generated by events chaired, planned, and executed entirely by Olsen. The program’s most notable and largest fundraiser, “Kicks for a Cure”, has raised over $850,000 in its eight-year history. The event, dubbed the “World’s Largest Kickball Tournament,” is held annually in Chicago. 

In early 2013, Greg and his wife, Kara, created 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 The 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 a multitude of services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital. The program provides about $25,000 - $30,000 worth of nursing care (approx. 460 hours) per family during the first six months of the baby’s life. Since its inception, the fund has distributed nearly $2 million in support.

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 and most comprehensive program of its kind in the southeast. The program will serve hundreds of “heart kids” annually, providing coordinated care from birth all the way through adulthood. The Olsens have personally contributed $750,000 to kick off the program.

“Greg has an incredible heart. I love the guy,” teammate and 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient Thomas Davis said. “After everything he faced with his son’s surgeries, he never turned his back on his team, and never walked away from serving the community. He is an outstanding friend, husband, father and teammate, and someone I truly admire.”

Olsen’s work to benefit those in need of a second chance goes far beyond Receptions for Research. In February 2013, he traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to lobby the North Carolina House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went into effect in July 2014. The Olsens have also made a number of personal contributions to the hospital. In 2016, the family donated $150,000 to purchase new pediatric bypass pumps for the cardiac ICU. Olsen 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.  He is a spokesperson for the NFL’s A Crucial Catch program, is an active participant in the team’s Make-A-Wish granting program and has lent his celebrity star power to assist Beds for Kids, a non-profit organization that provides beds and other basic furniture to children and families in the Charlotte community. Greg and his mother, Susan, have also worked with the Levine Cancer Institute’s Speak Pink program to raise over $100,000 for breast cancer research and screening programs. Most recently, Olsen designed a custom knit hat in support of Levine Children’s Hospital. A limited number of the hats will go on sale Sunday in the Panthers’ Team Store at Bank of America Stadium and online at shop.panthers.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Levine Children’s Hospital.

In addition to their work with the hospital and local community, Greg and his wife, Kara, host a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to benefit Receptions for Research. Efforts include an annual charity concert, speaking engagements, golf tournament, a 5K race, and a signature experience with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. All events are planned, coordinated and executed by Olsen and his team of volunteer board members. Since 2009, Receptions for Research has distributed over $3.5 million in support.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award,” Olsen said. “I am thankful the NFL allows its players to use their platforms to advocate on behalf of causes that mean a great deal to them on a personal level. I would also like to recognize all of the other Walter Payton Man of the Year nominees for their efforts to impact their own communities through initiatives close to their own heart. It is humbling to be nominated for such a prestigious award and to honor the legacy of Walter and the entire Payton Family.”

Starting in Week 14, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy silhouette will appear in uniform elements to further recognize past award winners and current nominees. Olsen will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season, in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.

Additionally, as a former national award winner, Olsen’s teammate linebacker Thomas Davis will wear a Man of the Year patch on his jersey in perpetuity to recognize his outstanding contributions to the game and to his community.  Davis became the first NFL Man of the Year Award winner in franchise history when he won the award in 2014.

The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is considered one of the League’s most prestigious honors. Three of the 32 team nominees will be selected as finalists for the national award, renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton. Finalists will be announced in January 2018. The winner will be announced in Minneapolis at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII, from 8-10 PM (ET and PT) on NBC.

$500,000 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 name to expand Character Playbook. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and United Way Worldwide.

The nominees:

Arizona Cardinals - Patrick Peterson

Atlanta Falcons - Ben Garland

Baltimore Ravens - Benjamin Watson

Buffalo Bills - Lorenzo Alexander

Carolina Panthers - Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears - Sam Acho

Cincinnati Bengals - Michael Johnson

Cleveland Browns - Randall Telfer

Dallas Cowboys - Travis Frederick

Denver Broncos - Chris Harris Jr.

Detroit Lions - Haloti Ngata

Green Bay Packers - Clay Matthews

Houston Texans - J.J. Watt

Indianapolis Colts - Darius Butler

Jacksonville Jaguars - Malik Jackson

Kansas City Chiefs - Alex Smith

Los Angeles Chargers - Casey Hayward

Los Angeles Rams - Rodger Saffold

Miami Dolphins - Kenny Stills

Minnesota Vikings - Kyle Rudolph

New England Patriots - Nate Solder

New Orleans Saints - Cameron Jordan

New York Giants - Mark Herzlich

New York Jets - Quincy Enunwa

Oakland Raiders - Bruce Irvin

Philadelphia Eagles - Malcolm Jenkins

Pittsburgh Steelers - Cameron Heyward

San Francisco 49ers - Bradley Pinion

Seattle Seahawks - Michael Bennett

Tennessee Titans - Wesley Woodyard

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Clinton McDonald

Washington Redskins - Nick Sundberg

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