Walter Payton Man of the Year: Thomas Davis
Congratulations to our Carolina Panthers linebacker, Thomas Davis, for winning the prestigious 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year award at NFL Honors, held at the end of January in Phoenix, Arizona.
Davis rose to the top of an impressive group of thirty-two NFL players who were each nominated for this sought-after honor. He is a four-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, and he was a finalist in 2013. In April of 2014, Thomas Davis was honored with the Call to Courage Award, an award given to a Christian athlete who displays exemplary character through adversity and triumph.
Truly, Thomas Davis’s story is an inspiration; in both his personal triumph over difficult life circumstances and in his proactive, multi-pronged, and generous efforts on behalf of underprivileged youth in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina and in his hometown in Georgia.
His football stats are that he is a four-year team captain of the Panthers, and this season he had 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes. He is regarded as one of the best linebackers in the National Football League.
As a coach of a young team of competitive fastpitch softball players (Team NC Baylog) and as a father of three growing daughters, I am even more impressed with his off-field story. Davis rose from a childhood that was memorable for its struggles with poverty and the many unmet needs that the constant pressure of poverty creates. He has reached the heights in the incredibly competitive world of NFL football and he has done this while giving hands up to underprivileged children. What an amazing example of triumph over difficulty and of “passing it on”.
Give a listen to the short video that was played at the award ceremony. You will see Davis walking through his hometown, see some of the places that he called home, and hear from him about some of the difficult circumstances he and his family experienced during his childhood. That short viewing and his acceptance speech grounds the whole story. An amazing story, really. He spoke of hard work – picking pecans and peas, and of bailing hay to earn money for the family. He spoke about having to borrow electricity from a neighbor so that they could boil water for a bath. He spoke about the impact of Christmases with no gifts from Santa. He spoke about how his small community (his ‘village’) helped him when his mother and sister relocated to Alabama and he was alone and in need of basic living supplies.
Here is a list (of what is publicly known) of Thomas Davis’s philanthropic work. I suspect this list will continue to grow into the future.
- Founded the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation (TDDDF) with his wife, Kelly. This non-profit is dedicated to providing and promoting free programs that enhance the quality of life for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families.
- Provides two college scholarships for graduating high school seniors who have completed the Youth Leadership Academy program.
- With TDDDF as a vehicle, Davis hosts each year a back-to-school supply giveaway, a Thanksgiving meal for members of a local women’s shelter, and a Christmas gift giveaway for underprivileged children in Charlotte, in parts of SC, and in his Shellman, Georgia hometown.
- Constructed the first and only playground in his childhood hometown.
- Holds a yearly free football and life skill camp for 350 children.
What did Thomas Davis say about why he was so determined to extend his helping hand to others in need?
“Just knowing the struggles of some parents. I grew up in a single-parent household, and my mom struggled to raise me and my sister, and I didn’t want these kids to go through what we had to go through. I tried to reach out and give back to them as much as I can to make sure those kids don’t go through those struggles, “says Davis.
Thomas Davis also makes the point that he hopes the NFL ‘village’ will join him in creating good deeds that will show children that they are cared about, and that will show the nation that the NFL is not about the negative press it has been receiving of late.
Good work, all the way around, Thomas Davis. The next good deed? The award comes with a $50,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice.