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Written by Phil HarrisĀ 

Named for the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. Every season, each of the NFL’s 32 teams nominates one player who has made a difference in his community. This year, the Carolina Panthers have nominated linebacker Shaq Thompson.

In addition to being an anchor of the Panther’s defense, Thompson has proven to be a force for positive change in both Charlotte and his hometown of Sacramento, CA. He personally donated meals to hospital workers during the pandemic and provided $25,000 in new equipment and uniforms for his high school team in Sacramento.

Shaq likes to team up with others on his initiatives, too. He and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey set up a program to provide $50,000 to cover Police Activities League (PAL) and Boys & Girls Club program fees for low-income youth. Thompson also led a group of players to meet with CMPD and discuss ways of improving relations between the police and the community.

The Thompson Legacy Fund (TLF) was created in honor of Shaq’s late mother, Patty Thompson. TLF works to help low-income students in Charlotte and Sacramento with mentoring, character development, and dental hygiene. He is currently partnering with a Charlotte dentist and the Boys & Girls Club to provide 100 kids with free dental cleanings as well as braces or related needs. You can read more about Thompson’s good works HERE.

The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award receives a $250,000 donated to the winner’s charity of choice. Each of the other 31 nominees receives up to $40,000 donated to their charity of choice. The donations are provided by the NFL Foundation and Nationwide. If Shaq wins, he’ll be the second Carolina Panthers player to do so. Thomas Davis won the award in 2014.

The case for Thompson winning is strong but you can help put him over the top with Nationwide’s 6th annual Charity Challenge. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge along with their favorite nominee’s last name. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most between December 10th and January 17th gets a $25,000 contribution for their charity of choice. The second and third-place finishers receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, respectively.

There’s a new incentive for participating in the Charity Challenge this year. On four Mondays (12/14, 12/21, 12/28, 1/4) during the challenge, Nationwide will ask fans to respond on Twitter with the name of their favorite nominee. One randomly selected fan each week will win a $100 NFL Shop Gift card and another $2,500 will go to their favorite nominee’s charity. See the NFL website for complete details.

Alexis Zarycki is your average girl with the hopes of leaving an everlasting impact on the world. Follow her on Instagram @official_lexpaige