NASHVILLE – When Titans safety Kevin Byard entered the NFL in 2016, he watched the veteran leaders in the locker room, and admired how many of them were so generous in the Nashville community.
It made an impression on Byard.
But even before then, the Middle Tennessee State University product had decided he wanted to impact those around him once he made it to the NFL. He'd thought about doing so because of his upbringing, and because of his mother.
"I always told myself: When I got to this point, I wanted to give back to the community," Byard said. "One thing I have learned is it's a lot better to give than receive, just because of the way it makes you feel."
On Thursday, Byard received some nice recognition for giving back. The fifth-year pro has officially been named the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide. Considered the league's most prestigious honor, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field. Each of the league's 32 nominees were announced today.
"We have a lot of guys on our team that do great in the community, so to represent the team, it means a lot to me," Byard said. "I don't do what I do to win awards, I do it to make a difference and to impact my community the best I can. So, it's an honor, and I am humbled.
"I always say it's a blessing to be a blessing, and it really is."
As a nominee, Byard will wear a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of the season in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field.
All 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LV. The 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air the week of Super Bowl LV, on CBS.
Also, all 32 nominees will receive a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
The national award was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.
Titans Coach Mike Vrabel praised Byard for the way he lives his life. Vrabel told the Titans about Byard being the team's nominee during a team meeting back in October. The league didn't make the announcement official until today.
"I think that's the total package that we're striving for, that all of us are striving for, to have some balance in our families, in our personal life, in our professional life, and then also what we're able to do to impact other people around the community and I know that's something that Kevin has done a lot of," Vrabel said. "I know that there's a lot of guys that are doing a lot of really good things with the resources that they've been blessed with.
"(The Walter Payton Man of the Year award) is a special honor. That's something that I know that our guys hold in high regard just to the service that they do and the care for others, so just excited to be able to tell the team (about it) and then honor Kevin in front of the team."
In nominating Byard for the award, the Titans listed his many endeavors:
-In 2019, Byard and his wife, Clarke, established the Byard Family Legacy Fund (BFLF) to stand in the gap and provide grace to anyone who needs it. In 2020, they did so through two back-to-school events that benefitted more than 100 families in the Nashville area. In partnership with United Way of Greater Nashville – for whom he is a spokesperson – the all-pro safety packed and distributed more than 300 distance learning kits including school supplies, essential hygiene items, backpacks, gift cards and sporting goods. Byard even hand-delivered the kits door-to-door.
-In March, Byard assisted the team with tornado clean-up efforts in North Nashville, hauling debris and passing out food and essential items to families whose homes, schools, businesses and churches had been damaged or destroyed.
-Following the pandemic, Byard has found ways to continue his community work virtually. He is a member of the team's player-led social justice committee that hosts Zoom meetings each week with youth and their parents from the YWCA's Amend program. In these meetings, they talk about issues of race, social justice, equality, police brutality and more. The committee has also recently opened dialogue with Metro Nashville PD on ways to improve community-police relations and police reform.
-This season, Byard has also partnered with our local Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research for the "31 Tackle Challenge." Fans pledge a monetary amount for each tackle he makes during the season. For each sack, fumble recovery or interception, donations are doubled. Before the pandemic forced them to postpone, Byard and wife were serving as the honorary co-chairs for the Rally Foundation's annual fundraising event, Rally on the Runway. Byard first became involved with this nonprofit years ago as a volunteer.
-Through the Byard Family Legacy Fund (BFLF), Byard hosts four signature events/programs each year – free youth football camps, Thanksgiving delivery and distribution, a Christmas event, and their signature Grace Grant. The Grace Grant provides financial assistance to people who have fallen on hard times. Families can apply or nominate someone through the BFLF website.
-In September of 2019, Byard teamed up with Academy Sports + Outdoors to provide new shoes and coats for the children of the Boys & Girls Club in Smyrna, Tennessee.
-Byard previously served as the spokesperson for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
Byard credits his mother, Artina Stanley, for much of his success. Following a divorce when Byard was in ninth grade, his mother moved with the children from Philadelphia to Atlanta. Although it was a financial struggle, Stanley worked long hours to make sure her children received what they needed. Byard claims he and his older brother "had to grow up really fast" as they helped their mother with taking care of the younger kids in the family. In May 2020, Byard was able to accomplish a goal of helping to purchase his mother her "forever home."
Byard, the Week 0 NFLPA Community MVP, donated more than 100 meals to families at Jones Paideia Elementary School in Nashville through his Byard Family Legacy Fund and Eat Well Nashville during Thanksgiving.
"When I first got in the league, I watched guys like Jurrell Casey, Ben Jones, Marcus Mariota, and a lot of other guys," Byard said. "But obviously, a lot of the drive that I have for doing things in the community comes from my background, my childhood, the areas that I was around, and I always wanted to be someone others would look up to.
"It really is a blessing to be a blessing. When you give back, to see the faces of parents that I know are having a tough year, or are struggling, just to see them smile, it means a lot. And to give them some hope, give them something to give to their children at Christmas, those feelings you get from that mean more to me than anything I do on the football field. It's something you never forget."
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's 6th annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee's last name. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most between Dec. 10 and Jan. 17 will receive a $25,000 contribution to their charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide. Hashtag information and official rules can be found at nfl.com/manoftheyear. New this year, fans can win NFL Shop gift cards and additional money for their favorite nominee's charity. Each Monday during the #WPMOYChallenge, Nationwide will ask fans to respond on Twitter with their favorite nominee and one randomly selected fan each week will win a $100 NFL Shop gift card and $2,500 for their favorite nominee's charity.
For more information on the nominees and the award, visit NFL.com/manoftheyear.
Titans safety Kevin Byard partnered with Campbell's Chunky Soup to assist the Bridge Ministry in Nashville, Tenn. (Photos: Donald Page)