By Clarence E. Hill Jr.
New Orleans _ An emotionally satisfying season continues for Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, whose on field success of setting a league record for catches by a tight end and making the Pro Bowl for a eighth time may only be surpassed by winning the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
Witten is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton award, considered the league's Nobel Peace prize, as it honors a player’s community activism as well as on field success. The other two finalists are Arizona 's Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland 's Joe Thomas. The winner will be announced on Saturday.
"Walter Payton epitomized what the NFL shield is all about," Witten said. "He was sweetness on the field. He was a better man off the field. This is an award where everybody is a winner. So many players do it the right way on and off the field. Just to be mentioned is very humbling."
Symmetrically, Witten's record-setting performance on the field in 2012 and distinguished work in the community were initially rooted in adversity.
He suffered a lacerated spleen in training camp and had more drops than catches in the first three games before rebounding with a historic season.
It was his experiences with domestic violence as a child that is the basis behind his immense charitable work in the community that not only has him up for the prestigious Walter Payton but resulted him being honored with the Athletes in Action 2013 Bart Starr Award, given to an NFL player for outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.
“I had a childhood that was challenging and fortunately my grandfather came and rescued me,’’ Witten said. “He was a high school football coach. He taught me a lot about being a football player but he taught me more about being a man. Fortunately, because of that impact, when I came to the NFL that was something that I wanted to give back and encourage young kids to chase their dreams.’’
Witten's main focus his Score Foundation (SCORE stands for support, community, overcome, rebuild and educate), which focuses on the recovery of victims of abuse and breaking the cycle of violence through education and mentoring.
The program assigns male mentors to domestic abuse shelters to help provide a positive role model for children in the shelters with their mothers. He also has the "Coaching Boys into Men" program which focus on training coaches to educate players on the dangers of dating violence.
Additionally, Witten runs a summer football camp for underprivileged children, has funded an emergency waiting room at a children's hospital, supports the NFL Play 60 programs, works with the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Salvation Army and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
True to his giving spirit, Witten also recognizes that he couldn't do all of this by himself and credits his wife Michelle not only for her support but for working alongside him.
“She’s the backbone behind it all,’’ Witten said. “She’s walked beside me in every endeavor and really kind of chased that dream with me. That makes it all worth it when you have somebody that has that passion and emotion and clear judgement on what you want to do. When somebody has a giving heart like that, it’s great to be a part of it and have her a part of my life.’’