Chris Long has been named the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year. Considered one of the league's most prestigious honors, the award, which is presented by Nationwide, recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Long was presented with the award Saturday evening at the 2018 NFL Honors at the FOX Theatre in Atlanta. The Chris Long Foundation will receive a $250,000 donation and an additional $250,000 will be donated to United Way in Long's name to expand Character Playbook across the country. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide, and United Way Worldwide.
"I am honored to be named the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and to join the long line of men who have received this prestigious honor," said Long. "While I am officially accepting this award, we would not be able to accomplish our goals without the support and participation of countless other individuals. I am humbled by the support we have received from my peers who have donated to our various matching-campaigns, the commitment and perseverance displayed by the veterans who have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with me each year, and the generosity of our fans who have made vital contributions to our foundation over the years. I am incredibly thankful that football has provided me with a platform to give back and I am proud that so many of my colleagues have decided to use this stage to create positive and impactful change in our local communities and around the world."
Long joined the Eagles in 2017 and helped the franchise win its first Super Bowl title during his first season in Philadelphia. That year, Long led the Eagles' defense with a career-high four forced fumbles and tied for second in the NFL with four strip-sacks. During the Eagles' Super Bowl LII-winning postseason run, Long tied for the team lead with 13 QB pressures and hits, including eight in the NFC Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings. He became just one of four players in NFL history to win back-to-back Super Bowls with different teams, as he also won a championship as a member of the New England Patriots in 2016. An 11-year NFL veteran, Long was selected by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and has compiled 70 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, and 458 tackles during his career. Since joining the Eagles, Long has registered 11.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 32 regular-season games.
"Chris Long is one of the finest individuals that I have encountered during my 25 years in the National Football League," said Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie. "Chris' on-field contributions and his presence in the locker room were instrumental in our success over the last two seasons and I will always be grateful for the role he played in bringing the City of Philadelphia its first Super Bowl Championship. Chris has also displayed remarkable stewardship off the field, both locally and globally. He is a model citizen and leader, and he is someone that we can all look up to and learn a great deal from. I admire the work that he has done throughout his career to help source clean water in East Africa, create educational equity programs, and provide support to military veterans. Civic responsibility is one of our organization's core values, and in my eyes, Chris has lived up to and exceeded the high standards of what it means to be a Philadelphia Eagle. There is no one more deserving of this award."
In 2018, Long continued more than a decade of community service by creating the First Quarter for Literacy program, which provides underserved Philadelphia families, and families nationwide, with free books, literacy resources, and mentoring services. To help amplify those efforts, Long donated roughly a quarter of his 2018 salary to the program, as well as to the development of six Chris Long Book Nooks that serve as neighborhood reading areas for Philadelphia families. The program also encouraged others to join in with a national matching campaign that saw fellow NFL players Beau Allen, Connor Barwin, Fletcher Cox, Kyle Long, Malcolm Mitchell, and Andrew Whitworth make significant donations. The group of players funded the book donations, with matching donations from Long, in Tampa, New York, Mississippi, Chicago, Georgia, and Los Angeles, respectively. To date, the program has donated 75,000 new books to children in underserved neighborhoods to start new libraries and encourage family engagement with reading.
Long kicked off the 2017 season by donating his first six game checks to fund scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Later in the season, he announced that he would be donating his remaining 10 game checks to support programs that promote educational equity in the cities in which he has played: St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia. This groundbreaking donation was not in isolation, as Long used the Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign to encourage fans to join him in fundraising and through that outreach the program raised a total of $1.75 million.
In total, Long's efforts over the last two seasons have yielded $2.25 million in donations to educational equity programs.
In 2015, after being named the St. Louis Rams' Walter Payton Man of the Year, Long established the Chris Long Foundation. The mission of the Chris Long Foundation is to impact communities locally and around the globe through programming focused around three main philanthropic causes: clean water, military appreciation, and youth education.
In conjunction with the announcement of his foundation, Long also launched Waterboys, his cornerstone initiative that unites professional athletes and sports fans to raise funds and awareness to provide clean drinking water to East African communities in need. The original goal of Waterboys was to build 32 clean water wells – one for each NFL team. That goal was surpassed in February 2018, leading Long to set a new goal of providing clean water to one million people worldwide.
As part of Waterboys, Long and former Green Beret Nate Boyer started an annual climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro known as Conquering Kili: an event that pairs professional athletes and combat veterans to take the challenge of summiting Africa's highest peak in order to raise funds for clean water. Waterboys has recently expanded into the National Basketball Association with the creation of Hoops2o. Led by five NBA players, the program shares the same model as the NFL version and uses player ambassadors to engage fans.
To date, Waterboys has raised more than $3 million and has funded 55 wells that will provide water to 211,000 people.
Get a glimpse at the work Chris Long does off the field, which earned him Walter Payton Man of the Year honors.