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Legacy Payton left ‘speaks volumes’

The legacy of Bears legendary Hall of Famer Walter Payton is featured in a brief video celebrating Black History Month on

Payton played his entire 13-year NFL career with the Bears from 1975-87. He was voted to nine Pro Bowls, retired as the league’s all-time leading rusher with 16,726 yards and set 16 NFL and 27 Bears records. Sweetness was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 in his first year of eligibility.

In 1999, the NFL renamed its Man of the Year award after Payton as a tribute to his greatness both on and off the field. The legendary running back passed away on Nov. 1, 1999 at the age of 45 due to bile duct cancer.

The prestigious honor is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his performance on the field. In existence since 1970, it rewards NFL players who demonstrate outstanding balance in their lives between civic and professional responsibilities.


The Ravens tight end has been named one of three finalists for this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, joining Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.

Each team nominates a player for the award, and the winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

“It means a lot to be one of the final three amongst 32, but really amongst the whole league,” Watson said. “There are a lot of men in this league who do great things in their communities domestically, as well as internationally. It is an honor to be selected as a finalist.”

It’s the second time Watson has been a finalist for the award, as he also reached this stage in 2015 while with the New Orleans Saints. Former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was then with the San Francisco 49ers, won that year.

Watson said this time is even more special because it comes while in a different city. The Watson family, including Watson’s wife, Kirsten, and their five kids, uprooted and moved to Baltimore when he signed a two-year contract during the 2016 offseason.

It’s not an easy transition to make, especially with such a big family. And it’s not a given that a player will immediately jump into helping like the Watsons did. Despite sitting out his entire first season with the Ravens due to an Achilles injury, the Watsons remained engaged in the community.

“Being in Baltimore the past two years and being selected in a different city is special,” Watson said. “To be a finalist again is confirmation that the work is worth it. It always is whenever you extend yourself and try to help other people.”

Watson was already recognized as the winner of the 2017 Bart Starr Award, which is given to the NFL player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.” The 14-year veteran was also the Ravens’ 2017 Ed Block Courage Award recipient.

“You don’t have to spend much time with Benjamin to understand his passion for serving others,” Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said. “He is an exceptional person who has a unique ability to lead, educate and inspire. For him to be honored with this award is outstanding. He never looks for recognition, but he certainly deserves it.”

Watson’s One More Foundation has been active in helping people in the Baltimore community and around the world. The Watsons stand for three things: kindness, justice and righteousness.

After taking a trip to the Dominican Republic in June, the Watson’s foundation partnered with the International Justice Mission, which is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern-day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor.

Watson also took a three-day trip to Lebanon to gain a greater understanding of the Middle East’s refugee crisis. He met with Syrian refugees to hear their stories.

Named one of CNN’s Most Extraordinary People of the Year in 2014, Watson appears regularly on CNN and FOX News to talk about race, violence and other difficult subjects. Several years ago, he wrote a book entitled “Under Our Skin” that looks at race, bias and justice following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

Watson was hands-on in the Baltimore community, especially around the holiday season. Watson started a campaign with Donors Choose, in which contributions go directly to benefit local schools in Baltimore, allowing teachers to purchase tools (books, art supplies, iPads, etc.) that enhance their children’s educational experience.

Watson will be in Minneapolis the week leading up to Super Bowl LII, and will meet with Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Payton family before attending NFL Honors, which will begin Saturday, Feb. 3 at 9 p.m.


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