Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has been selected as Pittsburgh’s nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
The distinction, given annually to an NFL player that best mixes excellence in the community with performance on the field.
“It’s one of the biggest honors in the NFL, especially if you’re involved in the community,” Pouncey said Thursday. “My brother (Chargers offensive lineman Mike Pouncey) got this award before, a couple years ago. It meant a lot to us, and even more now, with continued success throughout the community.”
Each team elects a nominee every season. That list of 32 players is funneled down to a group of finalists, with the winner being presented the award at the Super Bowl.
“He’s very genuine,” fellow offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva said. “He’s been doing this for a very long time, being a member of a community that’s very integrated. He truly cares about using his platform in the right way and representing all the good things that you can do as an NFL football player. He’s definitely someone who leads by example.”
The Steelers have not had a winner fo the award since Jerome Bettis in 2001. Lynn Swann, Joe Greene and Franco Harris have all received the distinction, as well.
“I know Maurkice Pouncey. He’s deserving of the Walter Payton Man of the Year,” said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who was nominated last year. “Not just a nomination, but to be a finalist and win the award because, that dude, he gives everything that he can.”
“He’s by far the most generous person that I’ve ever met,” Villanueva added. “He’s been extremely generous to all of us in the (offensive) line. He’s been extremely generous to the community. He’s very smart in terms of how he uses his platform.”
Villanueva says that, in the offensive line room, if you publicize your charitable efforts, it “doesn’t count.” That is something spearheaded by Pouncey, who has tried to keep his work in the community under wraps.
“I just feel like, things like that, you shouldn’t brag about it,” he said. “I just do it from the kindness of my heart. I don’t do it for the publicity, I don’t do it because someone else told me to do it. I do it because it makes me feel good internally.”
The nomination was announced just a week after Pouncey returned from a two-game suspension for his role in the fight in Cleveland on November 14. Pouncey has said since that he has no regrets from the incident. He, and his teammates, view his part in the brawl as defense of his teammate, Mason Rudolph. He claims it’s raised his popularity around town.
“Overall, it probably did in Pittsburgh,” he joked. “Everywhere I got, everyone thinks I’m Rocky now.”
“He put the world on notice why he deserves to be a great teammate,” running back Jaylen Samuels said. “He’s got our back and we’ve got his back. He definitely deserved that award.”
“He’s a true leader,” wide receiver James Washington added. “What guy would you not want on your team, besides him? A guy that’s going to take a fine for you like that. He’s the ultimate team captain, a leader that you want on your team. He’s definitely a role model for guys like me.”
Pouncey has been involved in several charitable efforts, including the Team Pouncey Foundation, run by he and his brother, which hosts camps for disadvantaged children in their hometown of Lakeland, Florida.
“It mainly started in Lakeland,” he said. “That was our big thing. We grew up with nothing. So everyone there, they’ve supported us our entire career, even from Little League to high school, to college, to the NFL. For us to turn our back on that, that could never happen.
His work has extended into the Pittsburgh community, including a close affiliation forged with the Pittsburgh Police, which he hosts event with in an effort to establish a better relationship between police and community.
“Being in Pittsburgh for so long, and Mike being in his cities (Miami and Los Angeles) for so long, you just grow love for the areas that you’re in. You meet a lot of great people.
“Whenever you get involved like that, you see that there’s really good people in this world. It makes it easy to do good things.”