Jason Witten humbled by Payton nomination

IRVING, Texas – After 10 years with the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Witten continues to wait for the most important on-field success a player can have -- winning a Super Bowl. On Saturday he could take home one of the NFL’s most important off-field awards.

Witten is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which honors a player’s community activism, as well as on-field success. Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Cleveland’s Joe Thomas are the other finalists.

On Friday Witten will collect the Bart Starr Award, which is given by Athletes in Action to the player who best exemplifies the same commitment to family, teammates and community as Starr, a Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame quarterback.

Witten just played in his eighth Pro Bowl after catching 110 passes in 2012, a single-season NFL record for a tight end, in addition to becoming the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver. Off the field, Witten and his wife, Michelle, run the SCORE Foundation and he is active in the NFL’s Play 60 campaign, as well as the team’s partnership with the Salvation Army.

“When you think about what Walter Payton represented as a player on and off the field, it means a lot,” said Witten, who was a finalist for the award in 2007. “There are a lot of great players in this league doing great things, so you’re just humbled to be a part of that.”

Growing up, Witten saw the effects of domestic violence first hand and his foundation focuses on the recovery of victims of abuse and breaking the cycle of violence through education and mentoring.

The SCOREkeepers program places full-time, trained male mentors in six women's shelters across Texas for children to see positive male behavior. Three years ago he launched the “Coaching Boys Into Men” program, which trains coaches to educate players on the dangers of dating violence.

The Wittens also funded an emergency waiting room at The Children’s Hospital at Johnson City Medical Center not far from his hometown, Elizabethton, Tenn. He also runs football camps locally and back in his hometown that attract more than 1,200 youngsters.

“You never do it (for publicity), you do it to try to make a small influence in young people’s lives,” Witten said. “Obviously my story is unique and people came into my life and helped pave the way for me and gave me the opportunity to chase my dream. That’s what we want to do with young kids’ lives. I’ve read all about what Walter Payton did, and what he represented is what the NFL shield is all about. To be up for this type of award with his name on it, it’s up there.”

The Cowboys have had three Man of the Year Award winners: Roger Staubach (1978), Tom Landry (1981) and Troy Aikman (1997).