- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW ORLEANS -- A big night continued for the NFC East when Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was named the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year. The award is the only one of the night that honors a player's off-field contributions, and Witten beat out fellow finalists Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona and Joe Thomas of Cleveland.
I wrote about Witten and this award a couple of days ago, and it suffices to say that I'm more impressed with this than I am even with Robert Griffin III's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award or any of the other football-based honors being handed out at the NFL Honors show here tonight. Nothing against any of those guys or the remarkable things they accomplish on the football field, but take a moment to realize why Witten's being honored.
Witten is being honored because he helps fund, establish and improve battered women's shelters in Texas and Tennessee. Himself a childhood victim of domestic violence, Witten's SCORE foundation works to install positive male role models in these shelters whose job it is to demonstrate appropriate adult behavior to the children who are growing up in them. This is a guy using his status as a football hero to make the world better. And he's doing that in a real, on-the-ground way -- not just flinging money at a problem.
And yes, there are players all across the NFL and other sports who do this, too, in their own way, including Fitzgerald and Thomas. I just think it's a great thing the NFL does to incorporate this award into its annual awards show and elevate it to the status of the MVP and other awards on which people spend so much time and attention. Football is great, and we all enjoy it very much, but it's just a game. The work Witten's doing is about real life. And that's why I think he won the best award of the night.