On Thursday, the NFL Players Association announced the winner of its annual Byron "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award - the highest honor the NFLPA bestows on a player. Every year since 1967, they have given the award to someone who “goes above and beyond to perform community service in their team cities and hometowns.” Russell Wilson was one of the five finalists, and while Malcom Jenkins was the winner this time, only five years into his career it already seems like this is an award he is overdue for.
Everyone knows how much Wilson has done for the Seattle community. I haven’t counted them, but conservatively he’s posted like 500 photos with patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It’s always cool to read the reactions people have to seeing these photos on social media. Most of the time, comments are overwhelmingly positive – prayers for the kids, or praise for Russell’s empathy.
Sometimes, the reaction is less positive. I hate to even bring attention to it, but I do think it’s important to address. As Russell said on Tuesday (22:40), the nature of social media is that you either love or you hate, there’s rarely any in between. Some fans and TV personalities have claimed it’s attention-seeking, or a brand-building exercise. What’s always struck me as strange about that argument is that if you want something to be newsworthy, why would you do it every week for five years? Stuff that becomes routine isn’t news.
The reality is that Russell is providing those kids with a cool, tangible memory from their favorite football player. It really is that simple. I’m an adult and even I still smile when I think about the time Russ gave me a Twitter shout out. Imagine how those kids feel when they meet him.
In the end it’s not what fans or TV pundits think that is important, it’s the reactions of the kids and the families, reactions that we rarely get to see. So here are some of the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and friends of patients Russell has visited over the last five years:
Dear Russell Wilson, I want to thank you so much! This is my daughter Kassidae. She had been fighting Leukemia...Posted by Tricia Nicole Schuerman on 2hb Jun 2016
@ciara @DangeRussWilson Thank you & Russ for visiting Cody today. He was smiling for the first time since he came out of ICU— Rita Ann Norquist (@RitaAnnNorquist) January 6, 2016
@DangeRussWilson @Bwagz54 @strongvscancer @seattlechildren @siennastrong Thank you both, for visiting my beautiful daughter. Means the world— Josh Braun (@1seahawker) October 27, 2015
@DangeRussWilson @macklemore, thank you both so much for visiting my son Aj at Seattle Childrens hospital. He was so very proud!— richelle smalls (@RichelleSmalls) October 14, 2015
Thank you for visiting our family. You are providing memories, happiness and hope to so many. @DangeRussWilson https://t.co/y9V5XOi3iY— Jamie Asaka (@CoachAsaka) July 28, 2015
@DangeRussWilson http://t.co/27qNSrLiUf via @youtube— Katie (@KBrBrJ) January 22, 2015
My son adores you. U are his hero. Thank you for visiting him at Children's in 2013!
@DangeRussWilson I just want to thank you for visiting my cousin Hayden at Children's Hospital yesterday! It means so much to all of us!— ✨Jordan✨ (@1DtoCali) December 18, 2014
@DangeRussWilson thank you so much for visiting my nephew today you made his day!!! pic.twitter.com/6OzItuGC5c— Monica Alexander (@moemoealexander) December 16, 2014
I want to thank you @DangeRussWilson for personally visiting my nephew Kingston Nash, truly means a lot to our whole family. Much love Russ— Colton Nash (@Nashty2323) October 9, 2014
@DangeRussWilson Thank you for stopping by and visiting my lil cousin Carson. His smile is priceless. #gohawks pic.twitter.com/Y7TjmCl0PY— CrystalinaGarciHawks (@Crystalina91011) June 25, 2014
@DangeRussWilson thank you for visiting my friend Jenna & sweet #ninjahowie you made her day and she truly need that! #prayers #teamhowie— Tabitha Angus (@tabithaAngus11) June 25, 2014
@DangeRussWilson Thank you so much for visiting my (little) cousin Wyatt at Children's Hospital, It made his day! pic.twitter.com/JOsgRVXu— Tjarec Johnson (@tjarec) September 12, 2012
Russell is clearly deserving of the NFLPA Man of the Year award, but the good news is that so was Jenkins and many others who are out there making a difference and using their fame and influence to brighten the lives of others, not just hoarding all that brightness for themselves. Even though he didn’t win it this time, I’m sure he will some day, but that’s not going to be what really matters.