As the Cleveland Browns officially launch their annual "10 Days of Giving" today, the team announced CB Denzel Ward has been honored as the team's 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. The award recognizes one member from each of the NFL's 32 clubs for their exceptional performance on the field and their dedication to the community.
"What an honor it is to be named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for the Cleveland Browns," said Ward. "To be mentioned in the same sentence as Walter Payton is a blessing. It means a lot to be nominated and represent my team, and also to be among so many guys in this league who I respect and who have been doing this a lot longer than me. As a Cleveland native, it is a priority for me to give back to my community, and I hope I can make an impact in a lot of ways – not just in Northeast Ohio but everywhere. I have been fortunate enough with a great support system that helps keep me going on and off the field, and I am excited to see what is in store next."
"Denzel has always been an exceptional role model and leader for our team and Northeast Ohio through his consistent attitude, actions and performance, which makes him more than deserving of this prestigious award," said Dee and Jimmy Haslam and Whitney and JW Johnson. "As a Cleveland native, we know how much playing for the Browns, giving back to his hometown and honoring his father's legacy means to Denzel and the Ward family, and we are proud to have Denzel represent our organization and the region as this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree."
"Denzel's philanthropic heart even outsizes his penchant for making big plays on the field," said Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry. "We commend Denzel's team-first and community-focused mindset as he continues to commit significant time and resources to making Cleveland better. His efforts to provide financial assistance to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and the work he does with his family to raise awareness for heart health through their 'Make Them Know Your Name Foundation' will make a lasting impact that will endure well beyond his football career."
"The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is one of our league's most-prestigious honors, and Denzel's production on the field and in our community certainly make him worthy of this nomination," said Head Coach Kevin Stefanski. "He has played at a high level this season, continually working to improve while helping our team win games, and that dedication extends to his involvement in Northeast Ohio. Along with his teammates, we greatly appreciate everything Denzel does in the building and for his meaningful investments in our community, and we congratulate him on this well-deserved honor."
The Haslam and Johnson families will formally present the award to Ward prior to the Browns-Ravens game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday (Dec. 12).
Since being selected No. 4 overall by the Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft, Ward has started 47 of 48 games played, amassing 172 tackles (139 solo), 10 interceptions, two interception-return TDs, 48 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. The Nordonia High School and Ohio State product received Pro Bowl accolades following his 2018 rookie season – becoming only the sixth Browns rookie and first since 2007 to earn the distinction – when he was also named a two-time Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week (Weeks 1 and 5) and the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week during Week 5.
This season, Ward has started at CB in 11 games, registering 29 tackles (22 solo), the first half-sack of his career, three interceptions, a 99-yard interception-return score and a team-best eight passes defensed. He has recorded all three of his picks in the past four games, highlighted by an INT-TD in Week 9 that helped spark a 41-16 Browns win at Cincinnati and marked the longest such score in the NFL since 2018 and the second-longest in Cleveland annals.
A consummate leader on the field and in the Northeast Ohio community, one of Ward's strongest passions resulted in his family establishing the "Make Them Know Your Name Foundation." Ward's father, Paul G. Ward Jr., unexpectedly passed away due to cardiac arrest in 2016, and the family turned that tragedy into the inspiration behind the foundation's mission of preventing heart-related fatalities with early detection and life-saving intervention. "Make Them Know Your Name" is an on-field and off-field mantra for Ward, inspired by the message his dad would often share with him prior to playing in a sporting event, attending school or engaging in any other opportunity he had to excel and set a good example for his peers and the larger community. Each year, Ward has showcased MTKYN during the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats campaign and will do so once again in 2021.
As part of the commitment to raising awareness for heart health, Ward has donated money, equipment and time to visit schools in the region and provide AEDs, CPR kits and training to ensure individuals know about the potentially life-saving results the devices can offer. In 2019, he hosted more than 400 kids at a Make Them Know Your Name Football Camp in Macedonia, Ohio, which was free to kids Grades 2-8. He has also hosted other fundraisers for his foundation to help make a truly significant impact.
Last summer, Ward donated $20,000 of new NIKE gear and equipment to John Adams High School's football program, aligning with his and the Browns' ongoing commitment to advancing youth and high school football. Throughout his career, he has been actively involved in all of the team's community initiatives focused on education, youth and high school football and volunteerism through various engagements.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched a unique campaign in 2020 to support individuals, families and businesses who were suffering personally and financially. To ease their burden, Ward asked to hear compelling stories and then offered to cover the largest monthly expense for 21 people. Also, at the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, his foundation amplified the message through an educational social campaign that highlighted the significant health disparities Black men and women face in comparison to the national average.
For the fourth year in a row, all 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their important work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LVI. The 2021 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air the Thursday before Super Bowl LVI on ABC.
All of the honorees will receive up to a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's 7th annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee's last name or Twitter handle. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most between Dec. 7 and Jan. 17 will receive a $25,000 contribution to his charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide. Hashtag information and official rules can be found at NFL.com/manoftheyear.
The Man of the Year award has been given annually since 1970.
Cleveland Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominees since 1999:
1999 OG Jim Pyne
2000 LB Jamir Miller
2001 LB Wali Rainer
2002 RB Jamel White
2003 QB Kelly Holcomb
2004 DE Kenard Lang
2005 QB Trent Dilfer
2006 QB Charlie Frye
2007 WR Braylon Edwards
2008 K Phil Dawson
2009 WR Mike Furrey*
2010 OL Joe Thomas
2011 WR Joshua Cribbs
2012 OL Joe Thomas*
2013 LB Jabaal Sheard
2014 LB Craig Robertson
2015 TE Gary Barnidge
2016 OL Joe Thomas
2017 TE Randall Telfer
2018 LB Christian Kirksey
2019 WR Jarvis Landry
2020 DE Myles Garrett
2021 CB Denzel Ward
*Denotes national NFL finalist prior to 2018; previously the pool of 32 nominees was decreased to approximately three individuals before the winner was ultimately selected; in recent years, all honorees have been recognized as finalists
About the Cleveland Browns and Browns Give Back:
The Browns Give Back to Northeast Ohio with a commitment to education and youth football while engaging the community through the team's signature First and Ten volunteer movement. For more information, visit www.clevelandbrowns.com/brownsgiveback.
Education – The Cleveland Browns are dedicated to improving the quality of education for students in Ohio by making investments that keep kids in school every day so they can succeed, highlighted by the Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day Network. The Stay in the Game! Network is a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and put an end to chronic absenteeism. The team engages local school districts and promotes quality education by using attendance data and feedback from families to build a school-going culture, uncover and reduce common barriers to attendance and support engagement opportunities for students to thrive. In the 2021-22 school year, the Stay in the Game! Network will partner with 16 school districts, benefitting more than 110,000 students in Ohio. An adaptation of the Get 2 School, Stay In The Game! Network, the name change reflects the current environment where schools may not necessarily be able to host in-school learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter the circumstances, the Stay in the Game! Network will continue to encourage and support students to maintain a strong educational-going mindset to keep learning, every day, aligned with its overall goal to help end chronic absenteeism and provide all students equal opportunities to be successful. To learn more visit, visit SITGNetwork.org.
Youth Football – The Cleveland Browns are committed to assisting the development, safety and growth of youth and high school football throughout Northeast Ohio with year-round programming for players, coaches, officials and parents. Through camps, clinics and other initiatives, the Browns' goal is to promote healthy, social, emotional, intellectual and physical development of youth by enhancing opportunities for youth football participation and education.
First and Ten – *Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to *#give10 and help their communities by volunteering for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. To date, more than 2.75 million hours of volunteering have been pledged through First and Ten. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10.