By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
When New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa was a senior at the University of Nebraska, he had an experience that opened his eyes and became the inspiration for current commitment to giving back. And now in his fourth NFL season, Enunwa is the Jets nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
The Cornhuskers were introduced to a young brain cancer patient, Jack Hoffman, whom the team started a foundation for, and invited to their spring football game. Hoffman was brought on the field and scored a touchdown. The experience stuck with Enunwa.
“It made such a huge impact on me I thought why not take advantage of the resources I have and give back as much as I can,” Enunwa said. “This is a kid who’s battling brain cancer and he’s so excited just to be around us. He went to his parents after scoring the touchdown and he was crying. I don’t think as athletes we realize how big of an impact we have.”
As soon as he arrived in New York in 2014, Enunwa immediately became involved in as many community-related events as he could. As his playing time increased his free time decreased so, he began to hone in on the things that he felt strongly about, which for the most part was working with children. He spoke with both his agent and the Jets director of community relations, Jesse Linder, to keep him updated on everything available so that he could try to do as much as his schedule would allow.
Linder explained how the community relations departments serve to help players who are interested in
getting involved with causes but aren’t sure how to start.
“[Players] get hit from so many different directions about so many things,” he said. “We try to stay in touch throughout the year and try to learn what may interest them. It makes it easier and if we hear something we can point them in the right direction.”
Enunwa continues to work closely with the Jets community relations department to expand his reach. He has been heavily involved in Jets Play 60 Challenge, which challenges children to get at least 60 minutes of activity every day for a four-week period, as well as with the launch of the Jets NFL Flag Football League, which is done in partnership with the Police Athletic League of New York City, which gives 1,200 children the opportunity to play sports for free. In 2016, Enunwa received the Jets’ Marty Lyons Community Service award and in May he received the United Way of New York City’s Hometown Hero award.
Enunwa is well aware that football players can appear bigger than life and untouchable, especially to children, and his goal is to make himself more personal and accessible in order to make a bigger impact.
“Because they see us as bigger than life, when they see us in person they realize we’re no different from them,” Enunwa said. “They realize I had the same dreams as they have now. It makes us more human, and makes them realize if they have dreams they can reach them.”
Enunwa had his own role models in his parents, Nigerian immigrants who came to the United States before Enunwa was born and built and executed their own dreams laying a foundation of support for him to pursue his dreams. The family settled in southern California where Enunwa’s mother is a nurse, and his father owns a business.
“They dreamed it themselves,” Enunwa said. “And now they’re so proud of me and what I’ve accomplished.”
Along with the other award nominees, Enunwa will receive a $50,000 donation from the NFL Foundation and United Way for the charity of his choice as well as an additional $50,000 donation in their name to expand Character Playbook. Enunwa’s donation will go to Harlem Grown, in New York City, an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.
Moving forward Enunwa remains focused on doing as much as he can.
“My purpose is to give back and impact others positively.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.