Patriots nominate Devin McCourty for Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his exceptional community service, advocacy for criminal justice reform

Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN: New England Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty is interviewed during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. (Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The New England Patriots announced on Thursday that safety Devin McCourty is their nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.

Established in 1970 and renamed after the Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award recognizes excellence in community service. Each team nominates a player, with a winner announced later.

"We are very excited to nominate Devin McCourty for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, via a press release from the team. "He has been a special part of our organization for nine seasons, not only for what he’s been able to do on the field, but for the way he’s been able to positively impact those in our communities. Devin is a natural leader and his genuine commitment to helping others is inspiring."

McCourty has long been one of New England's most active pro athletes in the community since being drafted to the Patriots in 2010. He's a vocal advocate for the NFL's Play 60 initiative and has participated in numerous charity programs during the holiday season. He most recently attended the Patriots' annual children's Christmas party at Gillette Stadium, where he and twin brother Jason let young fans decorate them like a Christmas tree.

The veteran safety is also noted for his outstanding efforts to effect change in the criminal justice system at the state level. He co-authored an op-ed with Robert and Jonathan Kraft in the Boston Globe back in February, calling for state leaders to enact criminal justice reform. In April, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill to raise the minimum age for charges to children in juvenile court from seven to 12. McCourty publicly supported the change in February, and it eventually became part of a sweeping overhaul for the state system.

New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty visits Frankie at Boston Children's Hospital October 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images for Boston Children's Hospital)
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty visits Frankie at Boston Children's Hospital October 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images for Boston Children's Hospital)

A current Patriots player has never won the award in its 48-year history. However, Hall of Famer Junior Seau, who played his final four NFL seasons with the Patriots from 2006-09, won the award in 1994 as a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Only five defensive backs have ever won the award: Dave Duerson in 1987, Darrell Green in 1996, Troy Vincent in 2002, Madieu Williams in 2010, and Charles Tillman in 2013.

Texans edge rusher J.J. Watt won the award in 2017, after his heroic fundraising efforts to aid relief of the disaster in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. Other past winners include co-winners Larry Fitzgerald & Eli Manning in 2016 and LaDainian Tomlinson/Drew Brees in 2006, Jerome Bettis in 2001, Cris Carter in 1999, Mike Singletary in 1990, and Payton himself in 1977.

Hall of Fame Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas won the inaugural edition of the award in 1970. Other quarterbacks to win the award include Peyton Manning in 2005, Dan Marino in 1998, Troy Aikman in 1997, Boomer Esiason in 1995, John Elway in 1992, Warren Moon in 1989, Joe Theismann in 1982, Roger Staubach in 1978, and George Blanda in 1974.

In addition to his Man of the Year nomination, McCourty previously won the Patriots' Ron Burton Community Service award in 2014, considered the highest honor in the organization.

Matt Dolloff is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].

Click here for all Patriots updates from 98.5 The Sports Hub.