Ron Rivera: Why Thomas Davis deserves SI's Sportsman of the Year

1:09 | NFL
Sportsperson of the Year contenders: Thomas Davis
Tuesday November 24th, 2015

Thomas Davis is one of the leading contenders for Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsman of the Year. You can see the full list and the entire series of essays that make the argument for each candidate here.​

I remember meeting Thomas Davis at the Panthers facility when I arrived in 2011. I had known about him for some time and admired his athleticism. Thomas made a point to come by right away, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He was anxious to get the taste of a bad season out of his mouth—the team went 2-14 before I got there—and he just wanted to get past that. Listening to him talk about wanting to become a better football player and wanting us to become a better football team was inspiring.

Now that I know Thomas well, one of the best ways I can think of to describe him is “high character.” Here is a young man that gives back to the community constantly. He’s so caring about those types of things. But he’s also a tremendous player having a tremendous season, a tremendous teammate, and just a tremendous young man who really truly believes what he preaches.

Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images

The other reason I say “high character” is because Thomas is a young man who’s come back from three ACL tears and along the way he’s never stood back and said "woe is me" or asked "why me?" He’s just put his nose to the grindstone and pushed and fought to get back to where he is today.

Thomas’s leadership transcends his on-field performance. He’s an ideal example to the young guys, showing them that you can succeed in light of your circumstances. He shows young men how to be a person of high character.

I thought the speech he gave earlier this year at the NFL Honors when he was named Walter Payton Man of the Year was unbelievable in terms of imploring players to do things the right way, to set the right example. It speaks so much to his character. What he’s gone through in terms of getting back as well as his personal struggles in growing up have made him the special person he is today.

People don’t understand when Thomas was a kid, just eight, nine, 10 years old and didn’t get a Christmas present because his mom couldn’t afford it, he strove to have a better life. And now he says, I’m going to make sure every kid has a Christmas present, every kid I can touch will have a Christmas present. That’s who he is as a man.

Donald Miralle for Sports Illustrated

The year Thomas is having means so much to me. This goes back to him being a guy who wanted to give it another shot after his third ACL surgery. The story goes that when he wanted to come back the team was very concerned because it was his third knee operation, and on the same knee. Thomas asked for a meeting between the owner and I and him. So we sat down with Mr. Richardson and talked about it. Mr. Richardson looked at me and said, "Coach, what do you think?" and I said, "You know, Mr. Richardson, Thomas does things that I can’t coach. He has that kind of ability. If he can come back and be that player that he was, I’d love to have him keep playing." Thomas said, "I can do it. Coach, I’ll make it back." Just the way he said it, with the resolve in the way he said it, I knew he was either going to make it all the way back or he was going to give 100% and it would be his best effort.

There is sense of pride in how he’s playing as well as he is. I’m not responsible for it, I’m just proud. Here’s a guy that I know what he’s gone through and I know what it took to get back to where he is today. I’m so happy for him.

Thomas Davis epitomizes what a world-class athlete is on and off the field. He’s a tremendous athlete but he’s a much better man. If you look at on that scale, he deserves to be SI's 2015 Sportsman of the Year.

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