By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
One of the most prestigious NFL awards is the annual Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, recognizing players who have shown excellence both on and off the field. This year, the Kansas City Chiefs nominated quarterback Alex Smith, who certainly fits the bill. Smith is one of the league’s leading signal callers (with a quarterback rating of 1.04.7, the highest among all starters), and has helped lead the Chiefs to the playoffs in four of the five years he has been with the team. However, Smith also makes his presence known away from the game.
In 2007, two years after being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers as the first overall pick in 2005, Smith started the Alex Smith Foundation. The foundation’s stated mission is, “The Alex Smith Foundation provides foster teens with the with tools and resources needed to transition to successful adulthood by developing and promoting Education, Advocacy, Mentoring, Housing, Internship and Job programs.”
The focus on and commitment to foster children began earlier in his NFL career when Smith was introduced to a residential school for foster children in his hometown of San Diego and knew immediately it was something he wanted to get involved with.
Smith took the time to meet with people involved with the foster care system to educate himself on its realities. Having gained that knowledge, Smith decided to launch the foundation specifically to help those teens as they age out of the system and need to find a path into adulthood.
Over the years, the foundation has grown and expanded and has included the Kansas City community since Smith arrived there. In particular, the foundation has a program to try to increase the numbers of foster children to attend and graduate from college.
For his continued efforts, the Chiefs have nominated Smith for the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
But that’s not all. Smith has also been recognized for how he comports himself on the field. The 13-year veteran was recently nominated for another honor – the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. The award was created in 2014 and named for Art Rooney, Sr., the late, founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Focused on completing the season, Smith was flattered and said when he learned of the Sportsmanship Award nomination, “I didn’t know anything about it, but heard about it a couple days ago. It is a cool honor. You try to be a good sportsman out there, I’m not always. Luckily, I’m not mic’d up too often. You just try to go out there and play hard and keep a level head.”
The winners of both the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award will be announced on February 3, the day before Super Bowl LII.
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.