At last month’s Superbowl game, it was announced that Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, had been selected as The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. This award recognizes one NFL player each year for contributing to excellence on the field, combined with outstanding community service activities off the field. Wilson joins another much-loved Seahawk as a Walter Payton award recipient, legendary wide-receiver Steve Largent, who was voted Man of the Year in 1988. Like Largent, Wilson is an outspoken Christian, who credits his faith as a motivating factor in his performance on and off the field, and openly expressed his joy in receipt of the award;
“For me personally, 2020 really changed my perspective,” Wilson said. “I’ve always thought about others and that’s always something that’s been important to Ciara and me, but when you realize that so many people every day can be affected in so many different ways, it was so important that we give back. It felt like God was calling on us to do something, calling on us to use our resources, use our networks of relationships and such to come together and really try to make a difference. Ultimately it made me think about my kids, that I pray that this isn’t them one day, so that’s why we really tried to step up and make a difference in 2020.”
Wilson accepted the NFL’s Man of the Year Award during the Super Bowl pregame show, sharing a partial Biblical passage from 1st Corinthians 13:4, “Love changes things,” as a dedication to his father, who passed away in 2010. “Dad, I can remember you telling me in the car one day, ‘Son, love changes things.’ Dad, you were right,” he said. “… Mom, thanks for showing me how to love. Dad, I know you are smiling up there somewhere with Walter. To the Payton family, thank you for carrying on Walter’s legacy.” Wilson then finished with this, “To America, to the world, ‘love is patient, love is kind.’ Love changes things. The great Walter Payton once said, ‘We are stronger together than we are alone.’ Dad, I think Walter was right. To the young boy or girl who has a dream, who wants to make a difference, remember this one thing: ‘Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ Love changes things.”
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious honors given to an NFL player, was established in 1970 and renamed for the Hall of Fame running back in 1999. It recognizes excellence both on and off the field. Each team nominates one player for the yearly award, and all nominees receive a $40,000 donation in their name to the charity of their choice, with the winner getting an additional $250,000 donation to go to charity as well.
The Why Not You Foundation was created in 2014 by Wilson and his wife, Ciara. The foundation has donated over $9 million to Strong Against Cancer since its inception. The Why Not You Foundation also teamed up with the United Way, the Rockefeller Foundation and Door Dash to expand Ride United to deliver food and supplies to vulnerable populations in 175 communities across the country, a program that made more than a million deliveries in 2020. The Seattle pilot program is used as a model nationally and has expanded beyond food banks to include grocery stores. Locally, Wilson has made weekly trips to Seattle Children’s Hospital starting even before his rookie season, making visits nearly every Tuesday throughout his career, until switching to virtual visits during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“I got out here and my whole thought process on my heart was, I want to make a difference,” Wilson said. “One, I want to start, I want to play, I want to have a long career and win multiple Super Bowls and hopefully go the Hall of Fame, do all that stuff—that was my thought process my rookie year before I even hopped on the plane here. The other part was I really wanted to make an impact on the city, and I really wanted to be able to make a difference in the community.”
“The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to me, represents excellence, not just on the field, but more importantly off the field,” Wilson said. “In life, we’re granted the opportunity to have an impact, no matter what sphere of influence we’re around. Walter Payton was one of the greatest examples of what he was able to do not just on the field, but more important off the field to give back and to serve and to love and to care. For me, to be able to be even mentioned with a name like Walter Payton is one of the greatest blessings I could ever have and one of the greatest honors you could ever have.”
On the field, Wilson excelled as he has throughout his career, earning Pro-Bowl honors for the eighth time in nine seasons, helping the Seahawks to a 12-4 record and an NFC West title, and throwing a career-high 40 touchdown passes. Russell Wilson is an American success story; Seattle Seahawks picked him in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. He was thought to be too short, and dismissed by many “league professionals”, giving his story and even greater meaning and purpose. “My height doesn’t define my skill set. To be a great quarterback, you have to have great leadership, great attention to detail and a relentless competitive nature – and I try to bring that on a daily basis. My faith is so strong that I believe that God made me 5-11 for a reason. For all the kids that have been told, no, that they can’t do it, or all the kids that will be told no.”
This past summer, in response to the uprising sparked by killing of George Floyd, Wilson and Ciara secured billboards and digital message boards in communities across the country reading, “Black Lives Matter, Love Russell & Ciara.” Wilson has also been active in Voter turn-out campaigns, and supporting school-choice programs, including launching the Why Not You Academy, a tuition-free public charter school in Des Moines, Washington that is set to open in the fall of 2021.
In the documentary, “The Making of a Champion,” Wilson spoke about how he became a Christian at the age of 14 after having a dream in which he says Jesus appeared to him in his room and said, “Hey, you need to find out more about me.” Wilson says he went to church the next Sunday and got saved. His mother, Tammy, has seen the difference his faith has made in his life. She says when he doesn’t know what to do, he reads his Bible.
“I always will say to him Russell, this is something you need to talk to the Lord about and you need to pray about and you need to be willing to listen to what he tells you,” she said.