When it comes to NFL Players, there may be a bit of a stigma that they are jerks. Granted, the fact that I recently wrote about the 20 biggest jerks in the league’s history doesn’t do a lot to dispel that notion. What may help is the fact that I promise you that the league is full of players that are genuinely trying to make a difference in their community.
Sports is a well paid profession and it is not uncommon to hear of an athlete that blew/threw their money away and are broke shortly after retirement. This is extra sad when you are about to read about so many players who clearly used their money to accomplish extraordinary things for individuals who may not have access to outside help
There is no doubt that young people are not going to look up to professional athletes. They’re passionate individuals who worked hard their entire lives, and achieved what is a very improbable goal. So, if you are going to look up to someone, you might as well try and make sure that you are looking up to someone that you know is not just a great football player, but a great person.
Every year the NFL recognizes one individual from each NFL team for the Walter Payton: Man Of The Year Award. You only need to see one of the many winners receive their award to understand just how much this means to the players who value it. Many of the men below have all been nominated at one point or another, many in this past year, for their outstanding contributions to the community.
There are some past winners of the award in here, but also some players that clearly take the time out of their extremely busy lives to do some good in the world, even if it is not always recognized on that level.
These are the 15 best people in the NFL.
15 Connor Barwin
When it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles, there might not be a player with more passion for the city than Connor Barwin. No matter what he does on the field, Barwin’s biggest impact is the time and effort that he has put into re-vamping a park in South Philadelphia. When asked about it Barwin said: “I don't know necessarily what exactly made me get involved with this park in South Philly, but more than anything, it seemed like the natural, right thing to do." He’s gone onto hold fundraisers to help raise public support. It is not a shock that his work in the community earned him the nomination by the Eagles for the Walter Payton Man Of The Year Award. For a park that was once a source of much violence, it is representing a fresh start in the city. “But they want to give it "a fresh new look," Crandall (a local police officer) said, "not so much speak on violence, but promote peace and tranquility, maybe something more inspirational." And that’s an impact that will last longer than his time on the field.
14 Cam Newton
There is no doubt that there are some tendencies of Cam Newton that lead to people labeling him as arrogant, or a jerk off the field (such as this writer who put him in his top 20 jerks). Yet, for all the things that happened in Cam’s past (like stealing a laptop), there is no doubting the feel-good nature of himself and fellow Panthers giving out game balls. It’s become a tradition in Carolina to give the TD ball to a kid in the front row, and Cam is largely seen as the force behind the movement which now extends to his fellow teammates. They may have lost the Super Bowl, but the Panthers, and Cam in particular, have helped make many kids lives so much better, with such a small gesture.
13 Russell Wilson
When it comes to knocks on Russell Wilson, you aren’t going to find many areas of his game to criticize. His personality however, has been the subject of criticism for his "traditional" postgame conferences and cliché way of speaking. Yet, there is nothing cliché about the methods that Wilson goes to, to ensure that he can make an impact on his community. Wilson spends Tuesday, labeled “Blue Tuesday” at the Seattle Children’s Hospital and is open about his willingness to engage in different charity events or run his own programs to help raise awareness and support to those in need.
12 Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson is not the quietest player on or off the field, but there is no doubting that he has the talent to back it up. Off the field, Peterson shows an incredible amount of passion towards giving back to his community and has his own foundation, the Patrick Peterson Foundation For Success, that he started in 2013. “Patrick has provided more than 40,000 low-income/inner city youth with encouragement, opportunities, and resources to reach their full potential.” This is a cause close to his heart after Peterson grew up with limited resources and a single mother. With events such as a celebrity golf challenge, the charity is continuing to raise in prominence right alongside this outstanding cornerback.
11 Steve Smith Sr.
Steve Smith Sr. is no stranger to NFL fans, after having an outstanding NFL career that spanned 15 years it has given Smith plenty of time to make an impact in multiple ways. A veterern of the Carolina Panthers, Steve helped mentor “dozens of at-risk teens engaged in the Youth Homes Ed Block program. [and] In 2007, Steve helped create Athletes United for Youth, a charity organization that provides educational, programmatic and structured support to youth in under-served communities.”
This is far from the only endeavour that Steve has undertaken. He has also founded the Steve Smith Family Foundation, which helps families that are impacted by domestic abuse. His accomplishments are recognized in North Carolina, when back in September the “North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence renamed it's Aspiring Activist Award after Steve. Now called the Steve Smith Aspiring Activist Award.”
Truly an outstanding honor, for an outstanding player.
10 Matt Forte
Forte has been the face of the Chicago Bears for years, and while he is no longer a member, there is no doubt that his legacy will remain in the city. In 2013, “Matt Forte founded The Matt Forte 'What's Your Forte?' Foundation to empower at-risk Chicago-area youth striving to achieve their dreams of higher education by providing mentoring, counseling, tutoring and academic scholarships.” On top of this, Forte continues to host football ProCamp’s for youth. Forte is also prominent in other campaigns, such as “Rock Your Drop” which centers around taking a stand for positivity, unity and peace in your community.
Forte is an exemplary person who will certainly make an outstanding impact on whichever new team he signs with.
9 Eric Wood
You might not know who Eric Wood is, after all, centers for the Buffalo Bills do not always get a lot of attention. Yet, Wood is fantastic, and was well deserving of being named team captain in 2013 and 2014. The NFL is known for various initiatives, and “Eric has been a strong advocate for many of the initiatives the Bills and the NFL support - including PLAY 60, Breast Cancer Awareness, Salute to Service, and overall community health and wellness.” This is a refreshing change from some of the negative criticism that the league has received for some of these endeavours.
“In 2014 he launched 'The Eric Wood Foundation' which has a very personal mission to him and his family. The goal of the foundation is to provide seriously ill, special needs and physically challenged children throughout the Greater Buffalo area with daily encouragement and life changing experiences.”
There is no doubt that Wood is not an outstanding role model for many individuals who are looking for inspiration.
8 Richard Sherman
For all of the things that people may hold against Sherman, one thing that is undeniable is that he does care greatly about his community. Sherman was raised to always believe in school, and earned Straight-A’s through highschool before committing to Stanford.
Sherman pushes the importance of education through "Blanket Coverage - The Richard Sherman Family Foundation.' Launched in spring 2013, the foundation provides school supplies and adequate clothing to students to ensure they have the necessities to achieve their goals.” Sherman will also travel to different schools to talk about the importance of setting goals, and meets with youth that are deemed at-risk.
As a result, he serves as a mentor for over 50 students and monitors their grades and achievements in the classroom.
When asked about what his goal was, Sherman replied: “We're trying to help a lot of kids academically, to get themselves in a better position to be successful later on in life. That's always the goal of our foundation and everything we do; all our efforts are focused on making sure the next generation has a better chance, especially focusing on kids in underprivileged neighborhoods and underfunded schools."
He might still a loudmouth on the field, but at least he also has an incredibly large voice in the community.
7 J.J. Watt
You can make the argument that some players can change once they get that first big payday, but J.J Watt has been the same guy his entire life, and that’s someone that just wants to make a difference. While still a Junior at university, Watt started the Justin J. Watt Foundation in hopes of helping underprivileged kids. The foundation has since raised over 3 million dollars to help schools in the area raise funding for after-school programs such as sports.
As best described by NFL.com: “Watt also supports our military and their families and first responders throughout the year. For every post shared on social media of Watt's visits, there are hundreds more that no one will ever see. No matter the wins, losses or demands of his schedule, Watt will do whatever it takes to bring that smile.”
Just make sure you don’t have to line up across from him on Sunday, and I’m sure Watt will be your best buddy.
6 Chris Long
Chris Long is a terrific defensive player for the Los Angelas Rams, but unfortunately there are reports that he may be cut this offseason. Long’s impact extends far beyond his former city of St. Louis, when traveling to East Africa he was shocked at the impact of the lack of water in Tanzania. As a result, Long started the “Chris Long Foundation and the creation of its signature initiative, 'Waterboys.' Through the cause, Chris is uniting athletes from across the National Football League to raise money and awareness for clean water projects in East Africa.” Long has also paired with WorldServe International, which helps provide clean water wells in sub-Saharan Africa.
In St.Louis, Chris cares deeply about the “homeless and has spent significant time and resources to assist the St. Patrick Center, a St. Louis non-profit that assists homeless individuals with housing, employment, and health programs.”
There is no doubt that no matter where Long will end up, he will spend the time to make an impact in his community.
5 Eric Berry
Eric Berry was well deserving of his Comeback Player of the Year Award that he won for this past season. For those unaware, Berry battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but was able to defeat cancer and 10 months later was back on the field. Yet, what Berry knows best is football. “Eric's annual football camps having now served over 4,479 youth and awarded 10 scholarships to high school athletes…[as well as] a backpack program supporting 4,050 students.”
Berry has also had over 100,000$ donated under his name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society and continues to make a remarkable impact on his community.
4 Eric Decker
Like many people, Eric Decker is a dog lover and his impact in the world can definitely reflect that. Decker has founded the Eric and Jessie Decker Foundation, which also includes “Deckers Dogs, which helps fund the rescue, care and training of service dogs for military veterans returning home with physical disabilities and emotional challenges.”
Since his move to New York, he has also extended his efforts to help stop bullying and became “the ambassador of the Jets Tackle Bullying campaign in conjunction with STOMP Out Bullying, the leading anti-bullying organization in the nation. The campaign aims to raise awareness through a Public Service Announcement featuring Eric as well as the distribution of 1,000 free educator toolkits to tri-state area schools.” Eric visits different schools to help implement the change.
3 Gary Barnidge
People may have only learned Barnidge’s name this past season, but there is no doubt that he has been making an impact on his community before then. Barnidge founded “American Football Without Barriors” in 2011 with the goal to help develop football in underprivileged countries around the world. Barnidge has spent his offseason in various countries helping host free youth football camps.
Barnidge is also active with several of the charity organizations that are put on by the Browns, including raising support for education in the city of Cleveland. He’s also a professed movie lover and hosts “Movie Night With Gary Barnidge” to help raise money. He even tweets out movie hints, and if you guess it, you get to go see a movie with him and some teammates. How cool is that?
Here is hoping Gary has himself a tremendous career, because he is clearly a man set on always giving back.
2 Devin McCourty
People may love to hate on the Patriots, but there is no doubting that Devin McCourty has a heart of gold. Since joining the Patriots in 2010, McCourty has helped give back to children and families in new England. As a result, in 2014 he was recognized by the Patriots for their Ron Burton Community Service Award for his numerous efforts.
McCourty also has an aunt who suffers from Sickle Cell Disease, and this motivated him to start the “McCourty Twins Tackle Sickle Cell” with his brother, fellow NFL player Jason. The foundation helps run several events aimed at increasing awareness and trying to raise funds towards finding a cure. Devin also works closely with the New England Patiots Charitable Foundation and helps serve as an advocate for education to hundreds of youth in the community.
1 Anquan Boldin
When Boldin first made his way to the NFL, he immediately made an impact and proved that he had the talent to stick around for a long time. Yet his biggest accomplishment may have happened very recently when he won the Walter Payton Man Of The Year Award. Boldin earned this due to his own foundation which he started in 2004 with the goal of expanding educational and life opportunities of underprivileged children. The foundation also offers several programs, food drives, holiday shopping sprees, and impacts the community in countless positive ways.
During his acceptance speech, Boldin stated “When I first got into the NFL nobody could tell me anything. I was living life." Boldin said. "I had achieved my dream of one day making it into the NFL, but I soon realized that's not what life is all about. I realized my purpose in life was not to make it to the NFL and score touchdowns. God put me on this earth for something much bigger than that and I realized and understand what my purpose is now. ... It's my prayer and my hope that I can live out the rest of my life honoring God and help as many people as possible."
You can’t get a better way to sum it all up then that.