The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is given annually by the National Football League honoring a player's volunteer and charity work as well as his excellence on the field. Team nominees for all 32 clubs have been announced.
On the field, Harper boasts an impressive football resume. Originally selected by New Orleans in 2006 in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft, Harper has appeared in 154 career regular season games with 138 starts in 11 campaigns and has recorded 893 tackles (640 solo), 18 sacks, 11 interceptions, 68 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 44 special teams stops. With nine of those seasons in New Orleans, Harper has recorded 763 stops (540 solo), 17 sacks, seven picks, 53 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles, three recoveries and all 44 special teams stops in a Saints uniform, being selected to two Pro Bowls and being named as a member of the club’s All-50th Team. Re-signed by New Orleans in 2016 after spending two seasons in Carolina, he’s appeared in all 14 games with two starts and has posted 20 tackles (15 solo) with five coverage stops
Off the field, Harper has worked diligently to grow his Harper’s Hope 4*1 Foundation, which has supported various community outreach projects in the New Orleans area, his hometown of Prattville, Ala. and Charlotte. Established in 2009, the foundation’s mission can be summed up by quoting Frederick Douglass when he said “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” as it strives to support programs that equip children with important tools for life. Current programs include-Reading with Roman to encourage literacy and provide resources for kids not reading at a grade level; Kleats for kids to provide sporting equipment and funding for underserved sports programs and 41 Days of Xmas. In addition to the foundation is implementing a program that will stress educational importance, post-secondary education decisions and financial literacy.
Throughout his tenure with the Saints, Harper has committed himself to building his foundation and serving local groups, participating in the team’s community service projects, as well as volunteering to assist teammates with their events to benefit those in need. His efforts locally started when the community was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2010, with the help of the United Way, Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA) and the St. Bernard Project, Harper spearheaded partnerships with several teammates to have family homes build in New Orleans through the “Home For The Holidays” program. In October, Harper who is the son of a teamer, served as substitute teacher for a day at Belle Chasse High School, a school with a large number of children from military families. Harper implemented lesson plans in several subjects, as well as assisting the students in preparation for statewide tests, followed by an address to the entire student body. In December, Harper selected a total of 30 families, split individually between New Orleans, Prattville and Charlotte to receive Christmas gifts for children and adults. The event for 10 New Orleans families will take place on Christmas Day, when Harper and his family will surprise them and distribute gifts with the assistance of Santa Claus.
Three of the 32 team nominees will be selected and announced as finalists for the NFL award in January, 2017. The winner will be announced during the sixth Annual NFL honors awards show in Houston on Feb. 4, the night before Super Bowl LI from 7-9 p.m. (CT) on Fox. Harper and the other 31 nominees each receive a $50,000 donation to their charity of choice and an additional $50,000 donation in their name to implement the Character Playbook program across the New Orleans market. The two-runner-ups for the Walter Payton Man of the Year will receive an additional $125,000 donation and a $125,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook, and the winner will receive an additional $500,000 donation to a charity of his choice and $500, supporting the expansion of Character Playbook across all NFL markets. Donations will be courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide and United Way Worldwide.
Character Playbook, launched in April at the NFL Draft, is a national education initiative focused on youth character development and healthy relationships. This interactive digital program uses evidence-based strategies to educate students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years with a focus on positive character development and social-emotional learning.
The finalists and overall winner will be selected by a panel of judges including Connie Payton, NFL representatives, national writers, former Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year winner LaDanian Tomlinson, 2015 award recipient Anquan Boldin and representatives from presenting from presenting sponsor Nationwide, United Way and the NFL’s broadcast partners, including CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC.
In addition, Nationwide will host the second annual Charity Challenge. Team nominees have a unique hashtag and fans are encouraged to tweet using specific player hashtags. Saints fans are encouraged to tweet (@Harp41) with the hashtag #HarperWPOMYChallenge. The nominee who receives the most mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation from Nationwide to his charity of choice