With all eyes on the New York Giants and the New England Patriots as they battle it out at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday, we thought we’d take a moment to spotlight a few National Football League MVPs on the philanthropic and community-activism front. The night before Super Bowl XLVI, the 2011 recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award — an annual honor that recognizes players committed to both their careers and improving the lives of others — will be announced in Indianapolis during the first televised “NFL Honors” awards ceremony. Hosted by Alec Baldwin and featuring a performance by Lenny Kravitz (honestly, what’s with the NFL’s choice of musical performances this year?), we think the program will make for excellent watching for while you prep those cauldrons of chili and Scotchgard the couch.
That said, we’ve been busy assembling our own NFL dream team composed of active players noted for their off-the-field works of do-goodery. (Okay, technically it’s not a proper team since we have four quarterbacks, two cornerbacks and no running backs or wide receivers but hey, we tried.) All but one player, a ferocious DT with a particularly generous spirit, are current or former Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winners, finalists and honorees. As you’ll see, the causes that these players choose to support are varied, including cancer research, children’s health, education, literacy and much more.
What current NFL player or players that we left out would you include in this charity-minded lineup? Is there a player whose off-the-field actions resonate with you? And would you consider donating to a NFL player’s charitable foundation?
Super Bowl XLIV’s MVP is also what we’d like to call an MVH … a most valuable humanitarian. A record-shatterer with a heart of gold, “Breesus” is a saint in the truest sense of the word, having funneled much of his energy (and money) into rebuilding New Orleans and supporting a slew of other causes including cancer research through the Brees Dream Foundation. When honored as Sports Illustrated’s 2010 Sportsman of the Year, the magazine noted that Brees received the award for “not only leading the New Orleans Saints to the first Super Bowl title in the franchise's history, but also for helping lead the city of New Orleans' rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.” (Photo: Brees poses with the FedEx Air Player of the Year trophy and kids from Sulphur Springs Elementary school in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Quarterback Eli Manning, New York Giants
You know you’ve achieved a distinct level of gridiron do-goodery when a wing of a children’s hospital has been named in your honor (Manning spent five years raising $2.5 million to make the Eli Manning Children’s Clinics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children a reality), and when you’re one of two NFL players (Ndamukong Suh being the other) listed on the 2011 Giving Back 30 list of charitable celebrities. (Manning and wife Abby donated $1 million to the Ole Miss Scholarship program.) What’s more, this beloved, Big Easy-born Super Bowl XLII MVP is involved with numerous organizations including March of Dimes, the American Red Cross and Guiding Eyes for the Blind. (Photo: Manning participates in a football clinic at the Giants Stadium Practice Facility. Credit: Rob Loud/Getty Images for St. Vincent's Hospital)
Quarterback Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
A 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year finalist and devout Catholic, this Alabama-born QB lends an oversized helping hand to orphaned, abandoned and unwanted children in the San Diego area through the Rivers of Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to help these forsaken children “find permanent loving homes and their own sense of self worth.” Reads the Rivers of Hope website: “The Rivers of Hope Foundation was formed to give hope. Hope for kids yet born, those 'stuck' in the foster care system, and hope for qualified couples waiting to be parents. It is our intention to bring hope, information and other means necessary to bring children into a family unit … some for the very first time." (Photo: Rivers grants the wish of a 7-year-old boy with cancer. Credit: Make a Wish Foundation of San Diego)
Quarterback Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
It just wouldn’t be right to list Eli Manning and not his equally altruistic big bro, Peyton, now would it? Like Eli, the elder Manning has donated big to a children’s hospital (case in point: the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent’s in Indianapolis) and, together, the brothers volunteered on the ground delivering supplies to New Orleans residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Plus, this four-time NFL MVP is behind a nonprofit dedicated to enriching the lives of disadvantaged kids. Since its inception in 1999, the PeyBack Foundation has raised $4.3 million for youth organizations in Indiana, Louisiana and Tennessee. Although his future within the NFL is unclear at the moment, Manning’s status as a big-hearted humanitarian is still going strong. (Photo: Eli, left, and Peyton Manning appear on "Idol Gives Back," which raised funds for U.S. and international charities. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Safety Madieu Williams, San Francisco 49ers
Born in Sierra Leone and raised in Maryland, Williams has bounced around a fair bit during his eight-year NFL career (Cincinnati Bengals, 2004-2007; Minnesota Vikings, 2008-2010; San Francisco 49ers, 2011-present) but has remained committed to improving the lives of others. 2010’s Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient, Williams started his own foundation in 2005 that focuses on enriching the lives of disadvantaged young people in both the United States and Sierra Leone through education, health and fitness. Williams also appeared on the 2010 Giving Back 30 list beating out Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand (but not Oprah) for his $2 million donation to his alma mater to help create the Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives at the University of Maryland. (Photo: Williams helps build a playground in Cincinnati. Credit: kaboomplay/Flickr)
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles
A top-notch cornerback with a strong philanthropic streak, this Louisiana native of Nigerian extraction is perhaps best known for his work with the Clinton Global Initiative and for founding the Asomugha Foundation, a nonprofit with two noteworthy key programs: The Asomugha College Tour for Scholars (ACTS), an annual college tour/mentoring program that gives high-achieving but in-need high school students of color the chance to visit college campuses, and Orphans and Widows in Need (OWIN), a program that provides assistance to Africa’s most vulnerable populations. In 2010, this former Oakland Raider was bestowed with the 44th annual “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award for his unwavering commitment to both his team and community. (Photo: Asomugha, left, and comedian Kente Scott, right, and ACTS Tour alumni help build a Habitat for Humanity house. Credit: Asomugha Foundation)
Cornerback Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears
Following his 6-month-old daughter Tiana’s diagnosis with dilated cardiomyopathy and subsequent heart transplant in 2008, this beloved Bears CB and Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year finalist, already renowned for his charitable deeds in his native Chicago, founded the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation. It works to help improve the lives of chronically and critically ill children and their families through five signature programs including the Charles’ Locker initiative, which provides sick kids and their families with iPads, DVD players, notebook computers and handheld electronics to pass the time during treatment and recovery. (Photo: Tillman visits kids at Loyola University Medical Center's Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital. Credit: Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation)
Linebacker Bradie James, Dallas Cowboys
This tackle-happy Louisiana native’s list of altruistic career highlights is mighty long and mighty impressive but his do-gooding raison d'être is to raise funds for breast cancer patients and survivors in need of quality care and resources. Founded in 2007 as a tribute to his own mother who died from the disease six years earlier, James’ Foundation 56 has donated more than a half million dollars to breast cancer-related causes including mobile mammogram units in north Texas and south Louisiana. (Photo: James attends the annual Bengal Belles luncheon in Baton Rouge. Credit: Facebook)
Center Matt Birk, Baltimore Ravens
Although you may not agree with this six-time Pro Bowl-er and Harvard grad’s outspoken pro-life stance and other social views, it’s hard not to get behind the HIKE Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge, Education). Founded by Birk in 2002 to “provide at-risk children with the educational opportunities needed to excel in the classroom and in life,” the HIKE Foundation’s two signature programs, Ready, Set, Read! and Rise and Read, revolve around childhood literacy … a very fitting cause considering the bookworm-y slogan of this Minnesota native’s adopted city. (Photo: Birk reads to kids in HIKE Foundation’s Read and Rise program. Credit: HIKE Foundation)
With his fearsome reputation on the field, it may be hard to look beyond this young and rather aggressive Lion’s habit of picking up personal fouls. But when he isn’t handing over cash to the NFL for violations, this Portland, Ore., native is handing it over to the University of Nebraska. More than a few eyebrows raised when Suh was revealed to be 2011’s sixth most charitable celebrity by the Giving Fund, due in part to a $2 million contribution made to the athletics department of his alma mater with an additional $600,000 donated to the school’s engineering department to establish a scholarship endowment. Although not the Lions’ designated Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award finalist (that honor went to Drew Stanton), we predict great things to come from Suh … provided he can keep that stomping under control. (Photo: Suh visits the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Credit: Ndamukong Suh Family Foundation)
Standing 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighing more than 300 pounds, this Denver-born Cardinal is a formidable presence on the field … and on the humanitarian scene. In honor of his late father, Campbell — who is also a budding comedian — launched the CRC Foundation to help provide young people with skills not normally found in American classrooms like budgeting, cooking and diversity awareness. Reads the nonprofit’s mission statement: “The CRC Foundation is committed to the enhancement of our community by teaching quality life skills to assist with the development of young people. Through sports, the enrichment of creative talents, vocational skills, career mentorship, financial literacy and quality health and nutrition education, the CRC Foundation seeks to empower and provide self-awareness for our future leaders.” (Photo: Campbell visits a school in Chandler, Ariz. Credit: CRC Foundation)