Renamed in 1999 after legendary Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, this honor is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service activities as well as his playing excellence.
Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Dallas tight end Jason Witten join Thomas as the other three finalists. The winner will be announced the night before Super Bowl XLVIII, at the “2nd Annual NFL Honors.” The two-hour awards special will air Feb. 2 at 9 p.m. on Channel 19.
“I am honored and truly humbled to be recognized as a finalist for this award,” Thomas said. “Walter Payton wasn’t just a Hall-of-Fame player, he was also one of the best people that ever played in the NFL and made a difference in so many lives. Giving back is something that is extremely important and the Cleveland community is very special to me.”
“Since he joined the Browns in 2007, Joe Thomas has been a tremendous ambassador for our franchise and Northeast Ohio,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said. “Not only has he established himself as one of the top offensive linemen in the game, but his philanthropic work has had an extremely positive impact on numerous people. Community involvement is one of our top off-field priorities, and Joe epitomizes these efforts. On behalf of everyone at the Cleveland Browns, we would like to congratulate Joe on this outstanding and well-deserved honor.”
The three finalists were chosen from the 32 team nominees for the award, all of whom receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The three finalists receive an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The award winner will receive an additional $20,000 for his charity.
Thomas has selected Team Rubicon USA, a non-profit organization co-founded by former college teammate Jacob Wood, who served in the U.S. Marines. Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations.
In 2010, Thomas visited troops in Afghanistan through the NFL/USO Tour, and is still in contact with many of the troops he met. Thomas has since supported a national USO campaign to raise additional funds for the troops, and visited the Pentagon last offseason to take part in the Military-NFL Culture Change Campaign focus group to help educate people about the dangers of traumatic brain injuries.
Earlier this year, Thomas made the largest individual financial contribution that the local “Kids in Need Resource Center” has ever received. The center helps provide school supplies for more than 180 schools in impoverished areas.
Thomas also founded the “Blue Collar Corner” season ticket program which provided tickets, apparel and food for families through the Cleveland Building & Construction Trades Council. In addition, he founded the “Thomas’ Troops” season ticket program which hosted men and women who serve our country every home game and provided tickets, apparel and food through the USO of Northern Ohio.
Thomas has annually served as the Honorary Co-Chair of the “Taste of the Browns” to benefit the Cleveland Foodbank, and held a similar role this year with the Providence House, the Cleveland Browns Courage House.
He has also served as a spokesman for both the United Way and Fuel Up to Play 60 as well as extending support to local youth football teams through equipment donations. Thomas also offered local kids a unique holiday shopping experience through the annual Shop with the Pro event, which this year benefitted kids who had been impacted by loss of items through fires or natural disasters.
Thomas and his wife, Annie, are also committed to other causes including the local Animal Protective League and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Thomas’ also annually participate in the Browns Adopt-A-Family program through The “Littlest Heroes”, an organization that works with kids diagnosed with cancer and their families.
On the field, Thomas has been selected to the Pro Bowl in all six of his NFL seasons. He has not missed an offensive snap since joining the Browns as the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, starting all 96 games of his career at left tackle.