Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been named the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in recognition of his COVID-19 relief donations and his founding of a charter school, among other charitable efforts.
The annual award, announced Saturday night at the NFL Honors show, recognizes excellence on and off the field. As this year's winner, Wilson receives a $250,000 donation to Russell and Ciara's Why Not You Foundation.
"The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, to me, represents excellence, not just on the field, but more importantly off the field," Wilson told the Seahawks' website. "In life, we're granted the opportunity to have an impact, no matter what sphere of influence we're around. Walter Payton was one of the greatest examples of what he was able to do not just on the field, but more important off the field to give back and to serve and to love and to care. For me, to be able to be even mentioned with a name like Walter Payton is one of the greatest blessings I could ever have and one of the greatest honors you could ever have."
The Wilsons donated 1 million meals to Feeding America and Food Lifeline early in March to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Seahawks, the Wilsons then partnered with Wheels Up to create the Meals Up campaign, "which raised the equivalent of more than 50 million meals." The Why Not You Foundation helped expand the Ride United program to deliver food and supplies to vulnerable populations in 175 communities throughout the country, according to the team.
The coronavirus forced Wilson to alter his weekly visits to Seattle Children's hospital -- something he has been doing almost every Tuesday since his rookie season in 2012 -- from in-person to virtual.
"For me personally, 2020 really changed my perspective," Wilson said, according to the Seahawks. "I've always thought about others and that's always something that's been important to Ciara and me, but when you realize that so many people every day can be affected in so many different ways, it was so important that we give back. It felt like God was calling on us to do something, calling on us to use our resources, use our networks of relationships and such to come together and really try to make a difference. Ultimately it made me think about my kids, that I pray that this isn't them one day, so that's why we really tried to step up and make a difference in 2020."
Wilson became more outspoken in 2020 in the fight for racial equality, including during his opening monologue while co-hosting the ESPY Awards. He used his platform to speak out against social injustice and to encourage voting.
The Wilsons announced in October the founding of the Why Not You Academy, a tuition-free public charter school just south of Seattle that is set to open this fall.
"Why not you?" was a question Wilson's late father, Harrison III, used to ask his son.
"My dad's probably smiling ear-to-ear, because [Payton] was probably one of my dad's favorite athletes of all time, and he always talked about what he did off the field and who he was as a person," Wilson said, according to the Seahawks. "... I know my dad's smiling down on me, and I know Walter's up there too, they're probably hanging out, maybe even smoking a cigar, who knows? What a blessing it is."
Wilson is the second Seahawk to win the Award. Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent won it in 1988.