Vikings All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks has been named the team's nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Each year, a player from all 32 NFL teams is nominated for their work on and off of the football field, primarily focused on their charitable efforts, volunteer work, and community involvement. In February, one player is chosen as the winner. The award was named after Payton following his death in 1999 to honor the legendary Bears running back's legacy of giving back.
“I feel blessed to accept this nomination on behalf of the Vikings organization. This is something I didn’t do alone, and I appreciate all of my teammates who are out in the community with me and trying to make positive changes in the world,” Kendricks said. "This award wasn’t something I sought after. There were times when I needed help when I was younger and people helped me. So now I try to help people as much as I can. We are all people who want the same basic things that everybody wants. When you think about other people in that way, that we are all a lot more alike than different, good comes from that.”
Kendricks, who is in his sixth season with the Vikings, has made a significant impact in the Twin Cities community through his involvement with numerous organizations. One of the main companies he has worked with is All Square, a grilled cheese restaurant that doubles as an institute which works with and supports formerly incarcerated people as they re-enter society.
Kendricks also frequently meets with youth at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center and has worked with Project Success (an education-based organization that helps high school students) and Every Meal (formerly known as Sheridan Story), which fights against childhood hunger.
His work with those four groups demonstrates Kendricks' passion for social justice, giving back to underprivileged groups, and helping create real change. He is also one of the leaders of the Vikings' social justice committee and spoke out earlier this year after the killing of George Floyd brought a renewed focus to the issues of police brutality and systemic racism.
As a leader on that committee, Kendricks has met with local law enforcement to have an ongoing dialogue about issues of social justice, and helped spread the message of the importance of NFL players being registered to vote, among many other things.
Helping people is something that Kendricks is very passionate about. Back in May, he sold some of his original paintings and donated the proceeds to food banks to help with COVID-19 relief. The former UCLA star is a leader in the Vikings' locker room and a leader in the community.
"Honestly, he's been a leader since the moment he stepped into this building," Adam Thielen said. "By the way that he carries himself, by the way that he handles himself on and off the field, by the way he plays this game with intensity and character and effort every single game. I think recently he's felt it upon his heart that he could help make change. He's doing that and doing a great job and being a great voice for himself, his family and his team."
Kendricks has been involved with volunteer work throughout his entire time in the NFL, whether it's working with the aforementioned organizations, hosting a coat drive, visiting a Boys and Girls club with some of his teammates, or any number of other efforts.
"It shows a lot about his character and what he stands for and also as a representation of us," Eric Wilson said. "We talk to each other about things off the field and how we feel and how to go about things to create positive change. It’s great to have that environment to be able to communicate and be authentic and express ourselves."
Kendricks is the first Viking not named Kyle Rudolph to receive the team's Man of the Year nomination in a while. Rudolph, who is known for his work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, received the nomination in each of the past three years.
Whoever wins this year's award will receive a $250,000 donation from the NFL to the charity of their choice. The other 31 nominees receive a $40,000 donation. Only two Vikings have ever won the award: Cris Carter in 1999 and Madieu Williams in 2010.
There is also the Nationwide Charity Challenge, a social media contest where fans post #WPMOYChallenge and a nominee's last name. That contest, which Rudolph won two years ago, comes with a $25,000 donation from Nationwide.
Kendricks will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal for the remainder of the 2020 season. You can view the full list of 32 nominees here.
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