By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
2016 marks the second consecutive year that Buffalo Bills center Eric Wood has been the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. The fact that it’s the second time, makes it even more special.
“In my opinion there are many worthy candidates in our locker room, and I was very humbled to be voted on,” Wood said.
The eight-year veteran whom the Bills selected out of Louisville in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, formed the Eric Wood Foundation in 2014 and is, in part, an homage to Wood’s younger brother, Evan, who died at the age of 11 from complications related to cerebral palsy. The foundation provides a variety of support to families with children who are dealing with physical illnesses or other special needs.
Wood, who was 14 when his brother passed away, and who has another younger brother, recalls the day-to-day issues and knows first-hand what families face.
“I know the struggles these families are going through,” Wood said. “So, I wanted to help them financially and emotionally. I give my parents a lot of credit. They didn’t let it affect our relationships with them too much. They gave us tons of attention. For siblings of kids who become sick it can be extremely tough.
“When I thought about what meant the most to me it was helping families with children in hospitals because I know the strains of that.”
The foundation currently holds several events including Operation Santa where families who might not be otherwise able to afford it, are given gift cards so they can purchase gifts for their children.
They have also launched the E-Zone for Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, which is a lounge with televisions and gaming systems where families and patients can escape from the everyday, ongoing stresses.
For Wood, an important milestone in his own life has further motivated him – the birth of his first child.
“As a new dad, me and my wife talk about how we cannot imagine how tough it would be if our little girl, Grace, had been born sick. It dominates your life. It’s hard to have a relationship. The divorce rate among families with sick children is extremely high.”
Wood has been both surprised and pleased with how quickly the foundation has been able to gain traction and is looking forward to continuing to build it and reach increasingly more people.
“As a little kid, you’re taught that it’s better to give than to receive. I’m at that point in my life where I get a lot more gratification from giving.”
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award is presented annually to an NFL player who exemplifies excellence both on and off the field. The winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will receive a $500,000 donation in his name for the charity of his choice and two finalists will each receive a $125,000 donation for a charity of their choice. The additional 29 winners will each receive $50,000 for a charity of their choice.
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.