The Carolina Panthers have the past two winners of the NFL’s Man of the Year Award on their roster.
Tight end Greg Olsen could become the third.
Olsen, who has raised millions of dollars for families with children affected by congenital heart disease, is the Panthers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the league announced Wednesday.
Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis won the award last year, and cornerback Charles Tillman won it in 2013 while with Chicago.
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Olsen said he feels a personal connection to Payton. He played with Payton’s son Jarrett at the University of Miami before being drafted by Chicago, where Walter Payton played his entire career.
“I’m very familiar with what that means,” Olsen said. “It’s a tremendous honor just to be the representative of this team.”
Olsen’s son T.J. has undergone several heart surgeries after being born in 2012 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a severe congenital defect characterized by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta.
Olsen and his wife, Kara, started the HEARTest Yard Fund to provide assistance through Levine Children’s Hospital to families going through similar circumstances.
Olsen lobbied the N.C. House of Representatives two years ago for legislation requiring mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went into effect last year.
“It’s always easier to get behind things that have a close meaning to you in some capacity. Obviously, that was as close as it gets,” Olsen said. “So it was a no-brainer for us to start doing something like that and support that hospital.”