- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- We do get caught up, don't we, in Xs and Os and draft projections and debates over which incredible rookie quarterback had the best season. Football can consume us with a relentless stream of Power Rankings and game analysis and fan-partisan chest-thumping about which team stinks and which team rules.
Which is why it's nice that the NFL incorporates the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award into its Saturday night awards ceremony, along with MVP, Rookie of the Year and all of the awards that celebrate on-field accomplishment. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is one of three finalists for the award this year, along with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland's Joe Thomas, and that fact offers occasion to celebrate Witten as a man and not just a football player.
Witten's SCORE Foundation is an anti-domestic violence charity, and an outgrowth of Witten's own experience with such as a child. The emphasis of the foundation is educating young boys about the seriousness of domestic violence in order to teach them responsible adult male behavior as they transition to adulthood. It's real, substantive, on-the-ground work that seeks to solve a problem at the source as opposed simply to throwing money at a problem after it has flowered. Witten's charity funds battered women's shelters, of course, but it also places in those shelters what it calls "full-time, trained male mentors" whose job is to demonstrate positive and appropriate behavior to the children who live there.
This stuff doesn't get mentioned enough. There are obviously many other players -- Fitzgerald and Thomas included, obviously -- who "get" the difference they as star athletes can make in their communities and their world. Witten is active in many charities in the Dallas area, and he's energetic and sincere about his involvement. A truly great player on the field, Witten is maybe even more impressive off of it as an NFL star who understands the way people view him and the importance of using his star power to affect positive change.
A lot of this blog's regular readers will be locked in Saturday night to see whether Washington's Robert Griffin III can win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in a crowded quarterback field. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's football and it's fun and celebrating on-field accomplishment is important. I just felt like it was worth shining a bit of a light on the off-field award that's getting handed out Saturday night. Witten and his fellow nominees are worthy of that attention.