Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas finished as a runner-up for the 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
The NFL announced Saturday night that Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten won the award that recognizes community service as well as playing excellence and is named after Payton, the legendary Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999. Thomas and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald were the other finalists.
Thomas is best known for making the Pro Bowl as a left tackle in each of his first six NFL seasons. However, his contributions to the community also stand out.
“It’s very important,” Thomas said in a recent phone interview. “I was involved in a lot of community-service stuff when I was in college and being able to come to Cleveland, it was going to be a big priority for me to get involved in the community, giving back any way I can. The people in Cleveland have given me so much in my six years with the Browns that it’s only fitting that I do everything I can to give back to them in various ways, and it’s one of the great joys of being an NFL player, trying to use some of your name recognition or celebrity status to try to help other people.”
Thomas, Witten and Fitzgerald were chosen from 32 nominees, one from each team in the league.
All of the nominees will receive a $1,000 donation from the NFL Foundation for the charity of their choice. The three finalists will receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. Witten will receive an additional $20,000 donation in his name.
Thomas chose Team Rubicon as the recipient of his donation. It’s a nonprofit organization that uses military veterans for disaster response throughout the world.
Jake Wood, a former teammate of Thomas at the University of Wisconsin, co-founded Team Rubicon three years ago. He is thankful for Thomas’ support.
“Our first year, he hooked us up with a bunch of supplies from Under Armour for uniforms and things like that,” Wood said in a recent phone interview. … “We certainly appreciate the fact that of all the different opportunities and places that he could throw his support to we remain one of them.”
Thomas has given the USO of Northern Ohio tickets to Browns games, apparel and food, and he has donated to the Cleveland Kids in Need Resource Center, which helps provide supplies for schools in impoverished areas.
The Cleveland Animal Protective League and the Make-A-Wish Foundation are among the other organizations that also have received contributions from Thomas and his wife, Annie.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.