Linebacker Thomas Davis is the Carolina Panthers Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee, the team announced. As the Panthers nominee, Davis is one of 32 players, one from each NFL team, eligible to be selected for the only NFL award that recognizes a player for his community service activities as well as his excellence on the field.
“I have had the pleasure of watching Thomas Davis grow into the confident mature, caring man he is today,” says Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson. “No one takes his position of influence more seriously than Thomas on the field or in the community. He is a leader who is unselfish with his time and energy to help those around him, whether that is the younger players on the team or the youth in the Carolinas. He is committed in to his profession, his family, and his charity work and that is why he has made our community a better place to live.”
On the field, Davis, a team captain, is in the midst of a career year, contributing 128 tackles and a career-high four sacks for the Panthers No. 2-ranked defense. Davis was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in Week 6 at the Minnesota Vikings and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for November when his contributions helped lead the Panthers to a 4-0 record that month.
Off the field, Davis and his wife Kelly run the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), a non-profit dedicated to providing and promoting programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families annually. Started in 2007, the foundation distributes more than $50,000 in aid each year.
TDDDF provides a variety of programs all of which are offered free of cost to participants, including an annual youth football camp, Back to School Supply Giveaway, Battered Women’s Shelter Thanksgiving Meal, and a Christmas Gift Giveaway. As part of the foundation’s mission to promote active and healthy lifestyles, it distributes toys like bicycles as opposed to computer games. In June, the foundation constructed the first and only park in Davis’ hometown of Shellman, Ga.
The foundation’s cornerstone program, the Youth Leadership Academy, is a 14-week afterschool program which mentors low-income middle school students in areas such as etiquette, public speaking, community service, leadership and academic achievement – something extremely important and personal to Davis. In 2011, almost 6 years after leaving the University of Georgia, he returned to Athens to complete his degree. “I’m always harping on you need to get an education, that’s the most important thing, but here I am being a hypocrite because I speak to so many kids and I didn’t even have a college degree,” Davis said. “Now I can go in front of those [TDDDF Academy] kids with confidence that I did what it took to become a college graduate.” In August 2011, Davis became the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college.
In addition to the personal time and commitment given to TDDDF, Thomas is actively involved with the team’s community outreach efforts – including NFL PLAY60 programming – and makes regular visits to the local children’s hospital. He is also a strong advocate for hunger relief efforts and is the spokesperson for a heart health testing program for local student-athletes.
“Thomas Davis lives his life the way that Walter Payton did – family and community first. His commitment as a husband and father reflects Walter’s loving spirit,” says Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers Head Coach and a former teammate of Payton’s. “Thomas’ strength to come back from three knee surgeries is indicative of Payton’s toughness on the football field. I can think of no other Panthers player who is as deserving as Thomas.”
This is the third nomination for Davis, who was the team’s 2010 and 2012 nominee, and was the 2011 Ed Block Courage Award Winner. Davis will be formally recognized as the Panthers’ 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee prior to the team’s home game versus the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, December 22nd when he serves as the Panthers’ Honorary Keep Pounding Drummer. He will be the first active player to receive this honor.
The NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner will be announced at the Super Bowl. The winner is selected from the list of nominees by an elite panel of judges including former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner Roger Goodell, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton (wife of the late Walter Payton), and former players Frank Gifford, Jack Kemp, Anthony Munoz and the previous year’s award winner.
The Man of the Year’s designated charity receives a $25,000 donation in his name. Charities selected by the other 31 team finalists each receive a $1,000 donation. The four finalists for the award also receive an additional $5,000.
Renamed in 1999 for the legendary Chicago Bears Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award has been given annually since 1970. Recent winners have included Jason Witten, Warrick Dunn, Will Shields, Jerome Bettis, Derrick Brooks, Jim Flanigan, Cris Carter, Dan Marino, and Troy Aikman; past winners include many of the league’s greatest players, 13 of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.