LB Christian Kirksey has been named the Cleveland Browns 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year, presented by Nationwide. Recognized among the NFL's best players for his performance on the field and commitment to the community.
"Since Christian was drafted in 2014, he has been an incredible influence and provided a positive energy for our team and building, as well as throughout the entire Cleveland community," said Dee Haslam, who personally informed Kirksey he was selected for the honor earlier this week. "It is special to see how he has grown on and off the field during his time with the Browns as he has clearly become an exceptional role model for his teammates, our city and most importantly, the youth he inspires."
"High character and putting others before yourself are attributes we look for in the individuals that make up the Cleveland Browns," said General Manager John Dorsey. "There is no man that has played in this league that exemplifies those qualities more than Walter Payton, and Christian should be very proud of the work he does off the field that makes him so deserving of this most prestigious honor."
"I always just want to be a humble guy and try to put other people before myself," said Kirksey after learning he was selected to represent the team. "I always said that if I ever got to the spotlight that I do now, I always wanted to give back. I always just wanted to be a responsible guy and let people know that it is not about me – it is about everybody else. I am honored that I can be a part of the Cleveland Browns organization and be nominated for this award. I am just happy. I am almost kind of at a loss for words. I am just excited.
"The way that I was raised by my parents inspires me to give back," Kirksey continued. "My late father, just seeing how he treated people and the way that he went about his life, I always just wanted to mimic him and go down the same path that he went down. Coming here to Cleveland – I was drafted here, and it was an honor to be drafted here –I am always loyal to the people that are loyal to me. I want to make sure that I am a good public figure in the community and just be a role model. A lot of kids need somebody to look up to and need somebody that is a positive, and I want to be that influential guy. I am just honored to do that.
"For me, I am looking at it as that I am more than just a football player. The Haslams see that it is about more than just football, and I am honored that they sat down, talked with me and appreciate everything that I have done for the organization and for the city. It just really speaks volumes to the character that they have to really come reach out to me and allow me to be nominated for this award. It shows that they care, and it shows that I care. That is what the Cleveland Browns organization is about."
Dee and Jimmy Haslam, as well as Executive Vice President J.W. Johnson, will formally present the award to Kirksey prior to Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers to congratulate and thank him for his commitment to the Browns, the City of Cleveland and positively impacting lives of others.
Originally drafted by the Browns in the third round (71st overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft, Kirksey has appeared in 71 games with 52 starts, amassing 452 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, 17 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Kirksey, who was named a team captain in 2018, ranked among the team's leaders in tackles and recorded his first two career interceptions this season prior to sustaining a hamstring injury in Week 10 that landed him on injured reserve.
Last season, Kirksey posted career highs in tackles (138), sacks (3.5) and forced fumbles (two) and was one of only three NFL players to participate in all of his team's defensive snaps that year, along with teammate LB Joe Schobert. His 281 tackles recorded during the 2016-17 seasons were also the second-most tackles in the league during that span, per press box totals.
One of Kirksey's mantras is "What is your Why?" a message that has empowered him to lead teammates on and off the field, challenging them to find what their motivation was to be their best. He has also used this message to inspire kids to be driven, create goals and find reasons that are important to them as it relates to working hard, helping others and being a role model.
Giving back to youth and social equality initiatives are important core focuses for Kirksey when volunteering his time in the community each year. With the launch of his Kirkoland Foundation this past spring, he strives to provide opportunities for local kids in need, most recently, his local bowling event to support kids from a local school, bringing kids to Cedar Point or sporting events in the offseason. He has also dedicated numerous hours visiting neighborhoods in Cleveland and most recently met kids at a local Rec Center alongside of safety forces who work in the neighborhoods to show unity.
In addition to his individual efforts and programs that benefit the communities of Cleveland and his original hometown of St. Louis, Kirksey regularly supports Browns Give Back's dedication to education, youth football and volunteering through the First and Ten movement. Also, he has been one of the primary leaders and voices in players' and the team's commitment to social justice initiatives in Northeast Ohio, including participation in the club's Neighborhood Unity and Equality Summits, ride-alongs with Cleveland Division of Police and conversations and visits to Towards Employment, a local organization that serves individuals who are on their path to reentry following incarceration.
New this year, all 32 team winners will be highlighted as finalists and recognized for their important work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LIII. The 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on February 2, the eve of Super Bowl LIII, on CBS. NFL Honors will be at Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Each Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee will also receive two Super Bowl LIII tickets to donate to a charity or community leader.
In 2018, $500,000 will be donated in the name of the league-wide winner – $250,000 to the charity of his choice and $250,000 to expand Character Playbook, the NFL and United Way's digital character education program. The additional 31 nominees will also receive donations of $50,000 in their name to both the charity of their selection and to expand Character Playbook. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's 4th annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote by using #WPMOYChallenge on Twitter with their favorite nominee's last name somewhere in the post between December 6 and January 13. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most will receive a $25,000 contribution to their charity of choice, courtesy of Nationwide.
More information about the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award can be found at http://www.nfl.com/manoftheyear.
The Man of the Year award has been given annually since 1970.
Cleveland Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year award:
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*
*Denotes NFL finalist
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 Northeast Ohio by making investments that keep kids in school every day so they can succeed. The team engages local schools and promotes education in various capacities throughout the year to help identify and remove attendance barriers and support engagement opportunities for students to thrive by monitoring attendance patterns to help understand how best to support students and schools.
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, nearly two 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.