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Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was honored on Friday by the NFL as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. It's the only league award that recognizes both off-the-field community service and playing excellence.
Previous winners include 15 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the award's first recipient, Johnny Unitas. The legendary Unitas won the award in 1970 and is the only other Colts player to receive it. Last year's winner was Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn.
Manning's accomplishments on the field are well-known by everyone who follows the NFL. But his community service efforts have also been extraordinary. Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Peyton and his brother Eli secured a plane, had it filled with 30,000 pounds of relief supplies, and flew to their home state of Louisiana to make the delivery.
Manning has also done tremendous work through his "PeyBack Foundation" touching the lives of thousands in the Indianapolis area. His foundation worked with Child Advocates, a national non-profit organization that works on behalf of the interests of neglected and abused children. He also hosts an annual "PeyBack Classic" which allows local high school football teams to play at the RCA Dome. The foundation also hosted a "PeyBack Bowl" bowling fundraiser that raised over a quarter of a million dollars. The foundation supports various programs in Louisiana, Indiana, and Tennessee and has distributed over a million dollars in grants since 1999. Manning also makes his philanthropy efforts personal, attending numerous events hosted by the foundation, including an annual visit with 1,000 children as he hosts their visit to The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
"Every sports team -- and every professional athlete -- should take a page from his book," said Colts owner Jim Irsay. "We are all in a position to step up and be leaders in philanthropy."
Manning made extensive remarks after being introduced and receiving the distinctive Gladiator statue. He called the award "one of the most meaningful honors I've ever received." In addition to the statue, Manning will be able to designate his favorite charity to receive a $25,000 check from the NFL.
During his acceptance speech, Manning challenged his fellow players in the NFL, and shared a personal story about how each gesture can change the lives of others:
"I challenge each and every player in the National Football League to
consider the impact they have, just because they play the game of football, then
go do something about it. There's more to the game. And we can make a
difference. I've seen it with my own eyes.
I've worked since my rookie season with a group called CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which helps protect and enrich the lives of foster kids. Through the Peyback Foundation, 20 kids in the CASA program become Peyton's Pals. Each month of the year we do something special for them. One of the kids, I'll call him Jerome, and his sister were removed from the home by the courts because of their mother's drug problem. A social worker thought Jerome would benefit being one of Peyton's pals, that it might give him an identity, other than being a foster kid. He was a 14 year old kid and what CASA calls one of the forgotten kids, someone too old to be placed easily in an adoptive
home. But Jerome kept showing up and gradually, instead of looking down and in, he started looking up and out. He studied hard and eventually made the honor roll. We went to one of his high school football games. We sent him to the Manning Passing Academy we have in south Louisiana. They've been reunited with their mother and now you can see a new confidence in his eyes. Maybe it's because we care about him, looking out for him, just as Walter Payton did for me that day so many years ago..."
ColtPower.com Premium Members can read the transcript of the entire awards ceremony by clicking here.