Ravens center Matt Birk, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Bears cornerback Charles Tillman are the finalists for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which recognizes players who combine community service with strong play on the field.
Birk has started 96 consecutive games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak for a center. Birk’s “Ready, Set, Read!” program urges children in the Baltimore area to read at home, and his advocacy for research into the effects of concussions includes pledging his brain and spinal cord tissue to the Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine.
Rivers just completed his fourth consecutive 4,000-yard passing season, and he and his wife founded The Rivers of Hope Foundation in 2010, which helps abandoned and orphaned children find loving homes. Rivers has pledged to donate all of his off-field earnings to the foundation.
Tillman, who was selected to his first Pro Bowl this season, founded the Charles Tillman Cornerstone, which aims to improve the lives of critically and chronically ill children. Tillman’s infant daughter received a heart transplant in 2008, and he advocated for FDA approval of the Berlin Heart, a device which helped save his daughter’s life and has since been approved.
The winner of the award will be announced on NFL Honors, an awards show airing on NBC the night before the Super Bowl.