Earning the Kansas City Chiefs’ nomination for the NFL’s annual Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is no minor accolade. In its history, the organization has had five individuals win the award — tied for the most among all NFL franchises.
The team has nominated safety Tyrann Mathieu for the 2021 award.
The nomination is well earned by Mathieu, who uses his Tyrann Mathieu Foundation to provide food and supplies to families in need in the local community and also his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. He has done many charity events, including “Celebrity Waiter Night” and “Tyrann’s Teachers” — which both end up funding youth education. In the spring of 2020, he also teamed up with Harvesters in the spring of 2020 to donate meals to families affected by COVID-19.
For Mathieu, there is no second thought to giving back his time and effort. His upbringing sticks with him, serving as a reminder to be the same helping hand that allowed him to be where he is today.
“When I sit down, and I really reflect on my life, I think I’m here because other people decided to really invest in me and to help me and to spend that quality time with me,” Mathieu told reporters on Wednesday. “I always mention my grandmother. Obviously, guys like Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald — the list can go on and on of all the people that really tried their best to help me.... So I just try my best to never really forget where I came from — and the road that it really took to get here.”
His teammates and coaches don’t overlook that genuineness. In fact, head coach Andy Reid greatly admires the effort Mathieu puts into worthwhile causes.
“[He’s] a very giving person,” Reid said on Wednesday. “He’s been through a lot in his life, and he understands the people that need him — and to be able to share his experience with these people, I think he’s tremendous. Big heart, great person, willing to give up time — which a lot of people can say, ‘I’m going to contribute with money,’ but they’re not willing to spend the time. He really does both.”
Another significant charitable presence in the Kansas City community is teammate Patrick Mahomes, who also understands how Mathieu’s background has made him the man he is today.
“He truly cares about people, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Mahomes explained to media members on Wednesday. “He came up in a rougher part, and he understands how much the impact of people can be to bring out the greatness in everyone. For him to be able to be in this locker room and be such a leader, it sets an example for everybody of how you should act on and off the field.”
The willingness (and ability) to lead comes naturally to Mathieu. Once he earned the resources to help effectively, it all came together.
“I feel like I’ve always been a leader — in the sense of wanting to help others,” Mathieu shared. “I think once I got to the professional level, to be in the locker room with a guy like Larry Fitzgerald — he’d done a lot of great things in his community, not just in Arizona but in Minnesota as well — and Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell, I just feel like I was really blessed and fortunate early on.”
The help he received from those players stuck with him as he grew up in the league, going from the 20-year old wild card to the consistent, reliable veteran turning 30 next offseason.
His generosity extends to how he treats his fellow NFL players — specifically the greener ones.
“You see a lot of guys come into the league and they can’t really figure it out,” Mathieu explained. “For me, I feel really blessed that I’ve been around a lot of good guys in this league that have done it the right way. To be in this position, I just want to pay it back to all those guys that look up to me.”
Even if he’s not directly mentoring the player, young guys like linebacker Willie Gay Jr. benefit just from playing on the same unit as the All-Pro.
“Being able to play with a guy like that, his attitude, his effort? It’s contagious,” Gay emphasized to reporters on Wednesday. “The way that he just wants to be great at everything he does. I see him every day and just try to model myself after him — and he’s a big part of this team.”
There are a lot of parallels between football and a community. Football is the ultimate team sport — and a healthy community also needs to work as a team. That similarity drew Mathieu to the idea of being an active member of local communities.
“I play football because I love the team part of it, coming together and building — helping other people become what they want to be,” he said. “It’s the same mindset when it comes to the community: you want to feel a part of something, you want to people feel special, and you want to be able to recognize those people.”
If it were up to Mathieu, he’d likely find a way to recognize the individuals that helped him in all the charity work instead of taking the recognition himself — but it’s his willingness and ‘want to’ that allow it to even be possible.
As passionate as Mathieu is on the football field, he channels that passion to his charity work as well — and just like how his football passion fueled him to become an All-Pro, his passion for giving back has put him in a position to truly earn this nomination.