Browns Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Joe Thomas is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, the league announced tonight.
The award recognizes off-the-field community service and playing excellence. It is named after the legendary Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999.
“I am honored and truly humbled to be recognized as a finalist for this award,” Thomas said in statement. “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.”
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten are the other finalists. The winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl XLVIII at the second annual NFL Honors, which will air on CBS from 9-11 p.m. Feb. 2.
All 32 teams nominate a player and a selection panel narrows the list down to three finalists. The 32 nominees received a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name.
Thomas chose to donate to Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit organization co-founded by a former University of Wisconsin teammate Jacob Wood, who also served in the United States Marines. Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations.
“Since he joined the Browns in 2007, Joe Thomas has been a tremendous ambassador for our franchise and Northeast Ohio,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said in a statement. “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.”
Here is more information the Browns provided in a news release about the contributions Thomas has made on and off the field:
Thomas has a deep connection with those who serve our country. In 2010, he traveled more than 14,000 miles round trip to visit troops in Afghanistan through the NFL/USO Tour. To this day he is still in contact with many of the troops he met during that trip. Upon his return, Thomas supported a national USO campaign to raise additional funds in support of our troops, lending his name to the nationwide effort. Along with former NFL players and coaches, Thomas visited the Pentagon last offseason to take part in the Military-NFL Culture Change Campaign focus group to help educate people about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries. Thomas was the league’s only active player to participate in the study.
Earlier this year, Thomas made the largest individual financial contribution that the local “Kids in Need Resource Center” has ever received. The center helps provide school supplies for more than 180 schools in impoverished areas. Thomas also founded the “Blue Collar Corner” season ticket program which provided tickets, apparel and food for families through the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council. In addition, he founded the “Thomas’ Troops” season ticket program which hosted men and women who serve our country every home game and provided tickets, apparel and food through the USO of Northern Ohio.
Thomas has annually served as the Honorary Co-Chair of the “Taste of the Browns” to benefit the Cleveland Foodbank, and held a similar role this year with the Providence House, the Cleveland Browns Courage House. He has also served as a spokesman for both the United Way and Fuel Up to Play 60 as well as extending support to local youth football teams through equipment donations. Thomas also offered local kids a unique holiday shopping experience through the annual Shop with the Pro event, which this year benefited kids who had been impacted by loss of items through fires or natural disasters. Joe and his wife, Annie, are also committed to other causes including the local Animal Protective League and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Thomas’ also annually participate in the Browns Adopt-A-Family program through The “Littlest Heroes”, an organization that works with kids diagnosed with cancer and their families.
Thomas has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all six of his NFL seasons. He has not missed an offensive snap since joining the Browns as the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, starting all 96 games of his career at left tackle. Thomas joins Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown (1958-66) as the only Browns selected to the Pro Bowl in each of their first six seasons in the league. The last Browns player to be named to six consecutive Pro Bowls was Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly, who earned the honor for the 1967-72 Pro Bowls. Thomas is one of six Browns to earn Pro Bowl honors six or more times. In addition, Thomas has been selected to numerous All-Pro teams during his career.