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Walter Payton Man of the Year

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Paving the Lane: Lane Johnson is a mental health trailblazer

Lane Johnson
Lane Johnson

We know Lane Johnson as the ultimate Eagle – tough, team-minded, and one of the very best ever to play the right offensive tackle position. He was a first-round draft pick in 2013 and his career accomplishments speak for themselves: Three times he's been named an All-Pro player and four times he has been voted to the Pro Bowl. Johnson has won a Super Bowl and he has for many seasons been lauded as the premier player in the NFL anchoring the right side of the offensive line.

But there is a whole lot more to Lane Johnson, the Eagles’ 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.

For as much success as Johnson has had on the field, the strides he has made off the field are just as impressive. Years ago, he made public his battle with an anxiety disorder, opening the eyes of countless others who previously resisted the need for counseling and therapy. It was a courageous move, one very much in the spotlight, and only part of the story of Johnson giving back to others in his very significant way.

"When I came here as a young player, I had mentors who showed me the way, who showed me how important it was to connect with the community," Johnson said. "It's something they demonstrated every day – how important relationships are in this world and how much kindness and impact in the community means not only to the organization but to your community in general.

"As I've gotten older, it's a tremendous honor to reach out and give back and it brings me joy to bring joy to others."

Each team nominates a player annually to be considered for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, the league's most prestigious off-the-field honor for players. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide acknowledges NFL players who excel on the field and who demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact beyond the game in their communities.

That's Johnson, now in his 11th season with the Eagles.

"Excellence is a term thrown around a great deal these days, but for me, it's all about focusing on one play at a time, executing in the pass game, executing in the run game, listening to adjustments on the sideline at the bench and doing that each game," Johnson said. "That's what you try to do in the community as well – show excellence and find as many ways as you can to help others."

To that end, Johnson has made a commitment during the 2023 season to honor his heroes by hosting Gold Star Families – families who have experienced the loss of loved ones in military action – and Silver Star recipients through his Gold Star Family initiative. These visits provide a unique experience to exchange stories and help each other overcome adversity.

"Bringing them to a game and showing them how much the military means to us and how much respect I have for them has been important," Johnson said. "They make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. That's important to me."

Johnson in the past has also helped those who helped him reach this point in his professional life. He funded an athletic facility at the cost of $500,000 to Kilgore Junior College, a steppingstone for him on his way to the University of Oklahoma and eventually the NFL.

His commitment to bringing about mental health awareness continues and will do so long after his playing days are finished. From leading his first speaking engagement in 2022 for the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties in South Jersey, where he spoke to more than 80 people, to now partnering with Kooth, a free and confidential mental health service for Philadelphia youth, Johnson has proven himself as a role model in the community. As a Kooth ambassador, Johnson raises awareness for the program, which ensures youth who are underserved, or afraid to talk about their mental health, are aware of accessible resources available to them. This year, Johnson has made an effort to localize his advocacy in the community, leading several talks on mental health, acceptance, and his treatment journey.

For all of that, Johnson is a deserving nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

"It's a huge honor," he said. "I'm humbled. I was very surprised and for me, it's all about how you treat others, how you treat people in the building, how do you treat people in the community, and what do these relationships mean to you and, for me, these relationships mean everything.

"I realize how much work is put in, not just in the National Football League, but for life in general. Helping your community and leaving it better than you found it is of utmost importance."

Lane Johnson meeting with a Gold Star Family earlier this season.
Lane Johnson meeting with a Gold Star Family earlier this season.

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