Sadly, in this day and age, it’s hard to find a professional athlete that hasn’t managed to find a bit of trouble along the way, but every now and then a player will come along who represents all that is right about professional sports. When that happens, those players deserve high praise. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is the perfect example of such a player, for excellence both on and off the field; over the weekend, he was recognized for both.
Just before Super Bowl XLVII, Witten was named this year’s Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. The purpose of the award is honor players for their volunteer and charity work as well as their on-the-field performance. Witten became the third Cowboy to earn the honors; both Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are previous winners of the prestigious award.
Additionally, Witten was also named as this year’s Bart Starr Award winner. This award, given by Athletes in Action, is awarded to players who best exemplify outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.
Witten, no doubt a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest tight ends to ever play in the game in league history, is certainly deserving of both honors.
Growing up, Witten, his two brothers, and his mother were the victims of domestic abuse. His mother experienced the abuse first-hand, while he and his brothers were forced to witness it, yet powerless to stop it at such a young age. As a result, the ten-year NFL veteran has committed himself to helping others who must deal with the same issues he had to face growing up.
Witten’s primary charity is the SCORE Foundation (Support, Community, Overcome, Rebuild and Educate), which he established as a means of offering help and recovery to victims of abuse helping to break the cycle through education and mentoring. The program assigns male mentors to various domestic abuse shelters in both Texas and Tennessee to serve as positive role models for abused children and their mothers.
Witten has also funded an emergency waiting room in his home state of Tennessee, hosts one of the largest free football camps for underprivileged youth in Tennessee each summer, and created the “Coaching Boys into Men,” program which trains coaches on how to educate their players about dating violence; these are just a few of the ways he has reached out to help others.
There is no doubt that these accolades are very well deserved. The NFL, and sports in general, could use more men like Jason Witten–both on and off the field.