The NFL’s best of the best were honored tonight in Arizona, and Thomas Davis took home the highest off-field award. The Carolina Panthers’ linebacker received the 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given to the NFL player who has the most profound impact on his community through outreach and service in addition to their excellence on the field. This was the second year in a row that Davis was a finalist for the Man of the Year Award, with last year’s honor going to the very worthy Charles Tillman. With the award comes a $50,000 donation in Davis’ name to the charity of his choice from the NFL Foundation and Nationwide. Davis’ work helping children within his community, through the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF), along with his commitment to helping families in need is what set him apart from his peers.
“I am honored to be selected as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” Davis said. “This award means a great deal to me, as it symbolizes the valued work that the NFL, its players, and its 32 teams do in the community. I am blessed to have such a strong support system in my family, the Carolina Panthers and the NFL, which allows me to make an impact in the communities we serve.”
TDDDF was founded in 2007 by Davis and his wife Kelly as a way to do more for the underprivileged youth within their community. The mission of TDDDF is to “Educate. Empower. Defend.” the children of both Charlotte, NC and Shellman, GA through various leadership programs. The most prominent of these programs is the Thomas Davis Youth Leadership Academy, a mentorship program which equips middle school aged youth with the necessary skills that scholarship and grant providers look for in college applicants. The goal of Davis’ program is to provide these children the opportunity that football allowed him, a chance to go to college. Through developing both academic skills and leadership, by incorporating the child, family, and community, Davis is giving the children within his program a better chance to succeed.
The Leadership Academy is only a small part of what Davis does for the communities of Charlotte and Shellman. He is also involved in multiple annual donation drives and efforts, and at the beginning of each school year he fills and donates over 300 backpacks with school supplies for children from grades 1-12, equipping them with everything they need to have a chance to succeed in the classroom. He has given Christmas presents to over 600 children with his community through an annual toy drive in Charlotte and Shellman. His giving is not limited to underprivileged youth however, as he also partakes in the annual “Dinner With the Panthers” during which he joins his teammates in providing Thanksgiving for the residents of a local women’s shelter, taking the time to not only deliver the food, but to also sit down and speak with the women and families.
Thomas Davis has been able to raise over $500,000 for his foundation through community events such as the Moonlight Masquerade, the foundation’s signature fundraiser. This year more than 250 people attended the casino night event, raising enough money to help Davis’ foundation serve more than 2,100 families annually with free programming. With his efforts to educate youth and alleviate their issues, Thomas Davis is truly making a positive difference within his community.
In addition to developing the next generation of leaders, Thomas Davis has also excelled as a leader on the gridiron. With his third consecutive 100 tackle season, Davis helped the Panthers become the first team to ever win the NFC South title in back to back seasons. The four-year captain had 129 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the tenth best defense in the league, helping to trigger their resurgence in the second half of the season. Davis has shown great perseverance throughout his career by returning to this high level of play after three ACL injuries.
The Man of the Year Award, which was renamed after Walter Payton in 1999, fields a nominee from each of the 32 NFL franchises every season. All 32 nominees receive a $5,000 donation from the NFL Foundation and Nationwide to a charity of their choice. Tonights’ other two finalists, Anquan Boldin of the 49ers and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, each will receive an additional $10,000 donation to the charity of their choice respectively.