INGLEWOOD, Calif. – When Walter Payton hung up his cleats in 1988, he did so as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Sadly just 11 years later, he passed away at the age of 45.
Today, however, his name lives on as part of the league’s Man of the Year Award.
It’s a source of great pride for his children, Brittney and Jarrett.
“When it took his name in 1999, we never knew it was going be this big,” Jarrett Payton said. “Now to see how much it’s grown with the link with Nationwide and how Roger Goddell has really truly elevated this award, it’s made guys want to win this like they want to win the MVP.”
The highly-coveted award recognizes a player for his involvement with the community with each team submitting a worthy nominee.
“It used to be, only three guys were the finalists,” said Jarrett Payton. “Now every single team has its nominee. For our family, we get a chance now to be able to interact with these guys and to keep telling these guys to keep doing what they’re doing, because a lot of the stuff that we see about these football players or athletes, it’s more about the bad stuff. The good stuff they’re doing needs to be elevated even more.”
“The more we can do with this award to really showcase that and highlight the amazing work that these guys are doing in their communities,” Brittney Payton said. “They’re really making a difference in changing people’s lives every day. The more that we can do as a family to support that and spread the word about their missions to help those organizations continue to grow, it’s a great thing.”
And who better to be the symbol of good works in the NFL than a man whose nickname was “Sweetness”?
“My dad was just one of the kindest, most giving, generous guys that was out there,” said Brittney Payton. “I always say they don’t make them like they made him anymore. It’s so touching to me to see just how his spirit and his legacy continues to live on.”
The NFL will announce this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award at the “NFL Honors” on Thursday night.