Fall 2022

Walter Payton Man of the Year, Rams lineman Andrew Whitworth guided by faith

He’s never known when the moments were going to present themselves, but Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth has always wanted to make sure he was available when they did.

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That was his message to the audience on Thursday night as he accepted the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given annually to an NFL player whose excellence on the field is matched with excellence in volunteer and charity work.

Throughout his 16-year career between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Rams, Whitworth has poured into the communities he’s played in, as well as those back in his home state of Louisiana through a variety of charitable efforts.

“The greatest thing I can give to anyone is for them to genuinely know that I truly care about them,” Whitworth said during a video presentation at the awards ceremony. “You live life loving people, and caring about people, and meeting them where they are. Then you try to help them get to that next step.”

Since he entered the league in 2006, Whitworth has given millions of dollars and countless hours to charitable and relief efforts, like the Boys and Girls Club and programs that support veterans. In 2020, he partnered with organizations to bring awareness and support to social justice causes and also donated to help children’s literacy programs and children fighting life-threatening illnesses.

In 2017, he surprised 550 kids with bikes and helmets. More recently, he launched the “Big Whit Homes for L.A. Families” fund, in which he donated $20,000 to help the homeless population in L.A. as well as those affected by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. He even went as far as to help affected families with down payments on their new homes.

During a Super Bowl LVI media session earlier this week, Whitworth talked about how his faith guides him and shapes his perspective on how he approaches his life. At times early in his career, he was tempted to bask in the glory that his platform brought him. His advice to younger players was to instead adopt a heart for others first.

“That helps you chase whoever it is that you want to be and what you see [as] the plan that God’s really laid out for you in your life. I think that sometimes it’s beneficial — I know in my career, I’ve always thought if I was signing an extension or making a move that I think’s going to benefit me and the family, I think I always felt like, ‘All right, that means something I’m doing in the community is about to go up a whole other level. Something I’m doing for other people is about to go up a whole other level, too. It’s not just about, ‘Oh, I get to have nicer things.'”

The moment that brought it all together for him, Whitworth said during his acceptance speech, was when Detroit Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes sought him out after a game earlier this season to thank him for pouring into him years ago, when Whitworth was with the Bengals and Barnes was a young kid in the Cincinnati area. He made it to the NFL, and he wanted “Big Whit” to know.

Whitworth is the oldest tackle in NFL history, will be the oldest offensive lineman ever to start in a Super Bowl, and Sunday’s game could be the last for the 40-year-old. He’s back this year after sitting out seven games last season due to a torn MCL and a damaged PCL. After the injury, Whitworth thanked God for blessing him with 15 years in the NFL and was thankful for “an opportunity to lead in a different way.”

 

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He said this week that through that injury, God taught him about patience, perseverance and relying on Him through it all.

“I think, really, I was just blessed with an opportunity to have that patience and realize that if I just keep persevering, being strong, and trying to realize that at the end of the day, if I just stick with the process and trust that all that is in His hands, then I would be OK,” Whitworth said during the media session. “I think that’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned.”

Sunday’s game will be a special one for him, he said, and perhaps a fitting end to his career if that’s what it ends up as. Memories like the one with Barnes have filled his years with both the Bengals and the Rams, and he’s excited to face off against his old team (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday).

“It’s a really special week for me, to be playing a franchise that I invested so much time in for 11 years, and not only that, but a city that my family and I were invested in supporting and being a part of the community,” he said. “As I’ve said multiple times, it was a place that we knew every restaurant we went to, every store we walked in, we knew everybody by name. They were a family. It’s a place that we are very dear to and we will follow and be fans of forever.

“For me, this week couldn’t be more special to have both franchises that we’ve poured our heart and souls into to be playing each other in the Super Bowl. It’s just unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words how cool it is.”

Whether it’s his final game or not won’t change anything about how he lives his life or pours into others, his wife, Melissa, said during the Man of the Year video presentation.

“He’s been doing this his entire life, and it won’t stop when he retires,” she said. “This is, like, a life mission. It’s just who he is.”

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