Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for 2020. In his acceptance speech for the award, Wilson repeated the phrase, “Love changes things,” and alluded to the famous New Testament chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient, love is kind,“ Wilson said, directing those words to America and the world. “To the young boy or girl who has a dream, who wants to make a difference, remember this one thing: Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love changes things.”
The 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is given to a player notable for his charitable work and impact on his community. Every year, each of the 32 NFL teams nominates one of their players for the honor. The winner gets $250,000 to donate to the charity of his choice, and the other 31 nominees get $40,000 for their charities. Russell Wilson was nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award once previously in 2014. He is the only other Seahawks player besides Steve Largent, who won in 1988, ever to receive the award.
Wilson accepted the award Feb. 6, the night before the Super Bowl, and addressed a significant portion of his speech to his father. Wilson’s father, Harrison Wilson III, passed away in 2010 due to complications from diabetes. The NFL award’s namesake, Walter Payton, was one of his father’s “favorite athletes of all time,” said Wilson, not just because of Payton’s skill as a player but also because of his character as a man. “Dad, I wish you were here for this award, for this moment,” said Wilson.
Russell Wilson’s charitable work has been extensive. The day he arrived in Seattle in 2012 after being drafted by the Seahawks, Wilson called Seattle Children’s Hospital and asked if he could come by once a week to visit patients there. Since that time, the quarterback has made a habit of visiting children at the hospital every Tuesday. In 2014, Wilson started the Why Not You Foundation, which is “a nonprofit dedicated to education, children’s health and fighting poverty, empowering today’s youth to lead with a why not you attitude.” Wilson’s award winnings will go to his foundation.
In 2020, Wilson took multiple steps to help people experiencing hunger and food insecurity. In addition to partnering with Wheels Up (an aviation company) to launch Meals Up, Wilson and his wife, singer Ciara, donated $1 million to Feeding America. The Why Not You Foundation also partnered with DoorDash, the Rockefeller Foundation, and United Way to deliver meals to people in need in 175 American communities. The Wilsons and the Why Not You Foundation have made significant financial contributions toward fighting cancer and generational poverty, and the foundation is also launching a tuition-free public charter school in Des Moines, Washington.
Last year, the Wilsons encouraged people to vote and responded to the country’s racial unrest by putting up billboards throughout the U.S. that said, “Black Lives Matter. Love, Russell & Ciara.” Including the word, “love,” on the billboards was important, said Wilson, because “Love has to be at the core center of change.” Wilson’s father was the one who first told him, “Love changes things,” said the quarterback in his speech. “Dad, you were right. I wish you were here to tell the world that in the toughest of times.”
The centrality of love was the unmistakable theme of Wilson’s acceptance speech. The Why Not You Foundation will “continue to lead with love,” he said.
“It’s my responsibility as a quarterback to serve to help my teammates,” said Wilson, according to Seahawks reporter John Boyle, “but more importantly, it’s an opportunity and gift to be able to give back to others around the country, around the world, and I think that’s why God has me right where I am, and I’m grateful for it every day.”
You can watch Russell Wilson’s full speech here.