Cleveland Browns offensive lineman
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given annually to a player who has impacted the community through volunteer and charity work. Each NFL team selects a nominee and from that list, three finalists are chosen. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner receives a $20,000 donation in his name to a charity of his choice. Each of the 31 other nominees receive $1,000 donations.
Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Dallas tight end Jason Witten join Thomas as the three finalists. The winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl XLVIII, at the “2nd Annual NFL Honors,” a star-studded football and entertainment event. The two-hour prime time awards special from the Mahalia Jackson Theatre in New Orleans will air nationally on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. (ET) on CBS.
“I am honored and truly humbled to be recognized as a finalist for this award,” said Thomas. “Walter Payton wasn’t just a Hall-of-Fame player, he was also one of the best people that ever played in the NFL and made a difference in so many lives. Giving back is something that is extremely important and the Cleveland community is very special to me.”
“Since he joined the Browns in 2007, Joe Thomas has been a tremendous ambassador for our franchise and Northeast Ohio,” said Browns CEO Joe Banner. “Not only has he established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the game, but his philanthropic work has had an extremely positive impact on numerous people. Community involvement is one of our top off-field priorities, and Joe epitomizes these efforts. On behalf of everyone at the Cleveland Browns, we would like to congratulate Joe on this outstanding and well-deserved honor.”
The Man of the Year Award has been given annually since 1970 and past winners include many of the league’s greatest players, 13 of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Walter Payton’s wife, Connie Payton, Pro Football Hall of Fame members, Frank Gifford and Anthony Muñoz, last year’s Walter Payton award winner, Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens, and Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by noted sculptor, Daniel Schwartz.
Thomas has given his time to many charitable endeavors, including serving as the co-chair of the Taste of the Browns in support of the Cleveland Foodbank and the 17th annual Deck the House event to benefit the Providence House, the team’s local courage house that takes care of children -- newborn to six years old -- that are at risk for abuse or neglect.
He has joined with former Browns defensive lineman Al “Bubba” Baker for the past several seasons as the honorary co-chairs of the annual Taste of the Browns event. This past year, the Taste of the Browns featured chefs from 31 local restaurants who shared their talents and foods with guests in order to help the Cleveland Foodbank raise $160,000, enough money for more than 640,000 nutritious meals.
Thomas has attended events in support of the Cleveland Foodbank since his rookie year in 2007.
“It’s a big event for me,” Thomas said. “I always like trying to raise money for the Cleveland Foodbank. It’s something that I got involved in during my rookie year and I get to see just how many good things that they do in our community.”
Earlier this year, Thomas and his wife, Annie, made a donation to the Cleveland Kids In Need Resource Center where they provided free school supplies to teachers in underprivileged schools in Northeast Ohio. They worked with 10 Cleveland-area teachers and helped them pick out supplies through the organization’s back-to-school effort.
“I’ve always thought that education is extremely important with our youth,” Thomas said. “You see first-hand the impact teachers can have on their students and to be able to get school supplies in an environment that otherwise might not get them, this organization allows supplies to get into the classrooms that are most needy in our area. We need to give them all the tools necessary for them to reach their dreams and that’s what this center does.”
The Thomas’s also support the Cleveland Animal Protective League by volunteering their time to take care of the animals and make school visits to those who raise the most money for the APL.
After the Browns finished an organized team activities practice this offseason, the Thomas’s partnered with the Cleveland Animal Protective League and Q104’s morning show, Fee’s Company, for a visit to a fourth-grade class at Messiah Lutheran Middle School in Fairview Park in recognition of the students’ commitment to helping animals during Q104’s Pledge for Pets Radiothon.
During the school’s “Week of Caring,” the children joined Q Cash Captains, Q Cash Kids and Q Cash Schools in collecting “Doggy Dollars” and “Kitty Kash.” The students entered the contest with just one week remaining and raised $700.
In addition to his support of the Cleveland community, Thomas lends his time to those who give theirs in service to the country. In 2010, Thomas joined several other football players for the NFL-USO program where he visited military bases in the Middle East.
He has also participated in dinners with families of active-duty soldiers currently on deployment and has two game day ticket programs, including one for military men and women through the USO of Northern Ohio.“The Cleveland community’s extremely special to me,” Thomas said. “It’s a community that’s very much like the community I grew up in, in Milwaukee. To be able to be part of a Midwest community with such fantastic people has really been a special part of my career. I just really like getting totally involved with community service and charities in this area because I have really fallen in love with the people.”