New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson has been named one of three finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the league announced Sunday.
The award recognizes an NFL player for excellence on and off the field. The award was established in 1970. It was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.
Along with Watson, New York Giants QB Eli Manning and San Francisco 49ers WR Anquan Boldin are finalists for the accolade.
"I consider it a privilege to be nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and I don't take this lightly," said Watson. "I consider myself blessed and fortunate to have been able to play in the National Football League for 12 years. I feel that reaching out to and helping others in any way, shape or form is part of our mission as NFL players."
"Benjamin is not only one of our team's most consistent receivers, but he is also an outstanding leader both in our locker room as a team captain and in our community," said Saints executive vice president/general manager Mickey Loomis. "Benjamin has taken his role as a team captain very seriously and has been a great mentor, resource and role model to younger players in our locker room. In addition, his work through his foundation, commitment to helping those in need and as an advocate against domestic violence make us proud to recognize him with the team honor and nominate him for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award."
An elite panel of judges including Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton, Anthony Muñoz, LaDainian Tomlinson and the 2014 award recipient, Thomas Davis, will select the overall winner.
The winner will be announced during the 5th Annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special airing nationally on Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl 50, from 8-10 p.m. CT on CBS.
Each of the 32 team nominees receives a $5,000 donation to their charity of choice. The two runner-ups will receive an additional $6,000 donation to their charity of choice. The winner will receive an additional $50,000 donation to his charity of choice.
Watson has proven to be an unbelievable blessing to the Saints and the New Orleans community since his arrival in 2013. His reputation for giving back to the community preceded himself and has since continued with an even stronger fervor. His genuine rapport with fans makes them feel a personal connection as if he were a member of their own family, a notion that is incredibly appreciated by any true New Orleanian.
Since its inception, his charitable foundation, the Watson One More Foundation, has been a vehicle to carry the hope and love of Christ to those who need it most, while understanding that the best and most efficient way to reach people's hearts is by first meeting their physical needs. One More's Mission is to simply be a blessing to individuals wherever they are, whether supporting existing charities or initiating programs of its own.
It is no wonder why he was named one of CNN's Most Extraordinary People of the Year in 2014. He participates in various team-related events, teammate events and NFL initiatives, including the No More Campaign. In addition to his 'Sit Down With A Saint' event, one of his foundation's annual events is 'The Big BENefit' where 25 families from a local domestic violence shelter are treated to a shopping spree to buy gifts for their children and as necessary household items. He has also hosted dinners at the New Orleans Mission for members of its Discipleship Program, which is a 12-month faith-based transition program.
For the past eight years, he has hosted several youth football camps in his hometown. Benjamin has also been featured on FOX News and CNN as a voice on social issues such as race, persecution, ISIS and civil unrest.
the Saints TE is spokesman for the All Pro Dad campaign which aims to help fathers love and lead their family well. He is also on the Executive Committee of the NFLPA and is a board member of Pro Athlete Outreach.
He released a book, "Under Our Skin," where he addresses, with candor and compassion, many of the most diverse cultural issues that affect our society. The impressive thing about Benjamin is that he will always stand up for what he believes is just, regardless of the majority's opinion.
Watson's unmatched athleticism, outstanding leadership abilities and genuine passion for giving back make him the perfect choice to be the Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Go to www.nfl.com/manoftheyear to learn more about the award.
Benjamin Watson and his foundation hosts shopping event for 25 local families from New Orleans Family Justice Center at Walmart. Photos by Lauren Levenson (New Orleans Saints photos).