INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth has a heart for others bigger than his 6-foot-7, 330-pound frame. On Thursday, that work in the community was recognized with him being named the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
"I think it's just a really rare class of people," Whitworth said during a video conference Thursday night following his acceptance speech. "You think about the great NFL players have played this game and also been great ambassadors in their communities and the teams they played for off the football field, it just means a lot. I mean, it's an amazing honor, and it's very humbling to just even put yourself in the conversation with some of the guys that have won this award. I think of a mentor of mine in Cincinnati in Anthony Muñoz who won it a long, long time ago. It's amazing even to think of that scenario."
This past year, Whitworth's outreach has included partnering with St. Joseph's Center and UNIFY Financial Credit Union to furnish a two-bedroom duplex for a local family moving from a shelter to permanent housing over the holidays, launching his "Big Whit Homes for LA Families" program at the beginning of the 2021 season and committing to donating $20,000 after each home game to repair homes in his home state of Louisiana and move Angelenos facing housing insecurity into affordable homes, hosting more than 30 military veterans with Merging Vets and Players in a suite for a Rams home game at SoFi Stadium and serving as the co-host for the team's annual Rams' Night for Wishes benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the fourth consecutive season.
Of course, his involvement in the community stretches back far beyond 2021. During his time with the Rams, he has also:
- Contributed more than $215,000 to the players' social justice fund and supported 25 Los Angeles non-profits working to address education inequities, community-police relations, mentorship programming, prison reform/anti-recidivism, youth justice, workforce development, financial literacy, food insecurity and homelessness (2020).
- Donated $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to kick off the team's virtual Te'LA'thon for Los Angeles and support COVID-19 response efforts (March 2020).
- Funded Big Whit STEAM Labs at an elementary and middle school to help close the technology gap for low-income students and provide them opportunities to achieve upward mobility.
- Funded a shopping spree for 77 youth with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County, providing each child with a $100 gift card to purchase items on their holiday wish lists (2019).
- Donated a game check to the families of the victims of the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill and hosted families in a suite for the Rams _Monday Night Football _game, then auctioned off his game-worn jersey to raise money for affected families (2018).
- Purchased new bikes and helmets for all 600 students at an elementary school in Watts, one of Los Angeles' highest-need communities (2017).
Beyond Los Angeles, Whitworth also impacts the lives of youth and families in his home state of Louisiana through The Big Whit 77 Foundation that he started before joining the Rams. One of the foundation's programs, Whit's Warriors, offers financial assistance to high school seniors in Louisiana and has awarded $400,000 in scholarships and school supplies.
Whitworth said he is somebody always wanting to fight for those who don't have what others do, or perhaps didn't get the same opportunity others get, which is why schools and education are cause close to his heart.
"Putting STEM labs in schools, going to schools, loving on those kids and just making them feel special," Whitworth said. "I can even think of one, 12th Street Elementary. Going and visiting there, as some people saw on that video, after we won the NFC Championship back in 2018, and a lot of those kids kind of making comments like 'You'll never be back,' or, 'This was really fun, but I think I'll never see you again.' And then I got to go back and build a STEM lab there. And how many of them were like, 'Wow, you came back!' Like they didn't think that was possible, that an athlete would one, show up, but then two, he actually came back and saw them again. And I think to them, that was almost like a, 'Okay, what you said that you care, you actually do care about us, and you actually will come see us.' So to me, that was one of those that really resonated like 'Hey, wow. The effect you have is more than you think.'"
Accordingly, Whitworth is big on not just using his words to make a difference.
"Just do that little thing," Whitworth said. "Don't try to beat it up and find the perfect thing. Just put some action out there and maybe you'll find that man, wow, this was rewarding, and I'd love to keep doing it."
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. Established in 1970, it was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community.
Representing the best of the NFL's commitment to philanthropy and community impact, 32 players are selected as their team's Man of the Year and become eligible to win the national award.
As the winner of the award, Whitworth will receive a $250,000 donation to his charity of choice. All other 31 nominees receive up to $40,000 donated to their charity of choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.