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Scoring for the Community with the Walter Payton Award

By Paula Green


His nickname was "Sweetness," and he was regarded as one of the greatest football players ever. Walter Jerry Payton was an American professional football running back who played in the National Football League. He was the Chicago Bears' first-round choice and the fourth player selected in the 1975 NFL Draft. Payton developed into a superstar of unusual dimensions during his 13-season NFL tenure from 1975 to 1987, all of which he spent with the Bears.  


 In 1977, Payton won the NFL Man of the Year Award. Established in 1970, this prestigious accolade celebrates the player's volunteer and charity work and his excellence on the field. The honor is given out annually. Every NFL team has one player nominated.


Despite his superstar status, Payton could not overcome his medical illness. On November 1, 1999, he died from complications from bile duct cancer. Payton was 46 years old. Following his death, the NFL renamed their NFL Man of the Year Award to honor his legacy as a humanitarian. The league now calls the annual tribute the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.


Since its inception, the Pittsburgh Steelers have proudly had four players (all Hall of Famers) win NFL Man of the Year honors. Three recipients played for the black and gold during their Steelers 70s dynasty. In 1976, Franco Harris was given the award for being an active supporter of various causes in the Pittsburgh community. In 1979, Joe Greene demonstrated that maybe he wasn't so "mean" when he accepted the Man of the Year Award. Then in 1981, wide receiver Lynn Swann snagged the honor. 


Fast forward 20 years to 2001 when running back Jerome Bettis, nicknamed "the bus," ran away with the accolade. Bettis founded the Bus Stops Here Foundation. Looking to improve the quality of life for troubled and underprivileged inner-city youth. This foundation provides financial resources and other recreational programs for youth to participate in. From computer engineering programs to reading classes, it is designed to enrich the lives and future of disadvantaged young people.  


The 2023 Walter Payton Award will be announced this year on February 8 at the NFL Honors ceremony in Las Vegas. Each nominee receives up to $55,000, and the winner will be awarded $250,000 to an organization of their choice. This year's nominee for the Pittsburgh Steelers is Cameron Heyward; it is his sixth nomination. In 2015, the Steelers defensive end and five-time Pro Bowler founded the Heyward House.


The facility focuses on two primary causes: children in need and cancer awareness. The Heyward House supports organizations such as Kids Voice, which provides resources for abused, neglected, and at-risk kids; the Boys and Girls Club; and the America Cancer Association.


Cam's heart is centered on kids – visiting with sick children, taking kids' clothes shopping, or giving birthday presents to kids who rarely get celebrated. He knows every kid needs to have one person in their corner, rooting for them. In turn, Steeler fans will be rooting for Cam on February 8; we wish him the best of luck! 



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