Over 16 NFL autumns, Andrew Whitworth has blocked the best of the best and played left tackle at a Pro Bowl level.
During that time, he's likewise left an indelible mark on local communities.
Just days before he's set to play in Super Bowl LVI, the big man with the big heart received the NFL's most prestigious tribute when Whitworth was named the 2021 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year at Thursday's NFL Honors in Los Angeles.
Typically the last award of the evening, the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year is presented to a player in recognition of his "outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on it."
"This award, though, has been about players who are great on the football field, but live with their hearts off it," Whitworth said Thursday in his acceptance speech, which brought tears to the eyes of many of the NFL's biggest and toughest stars. "They made their time in the NFL about more than just the stats they put out on the field, but how they lived off of it. I'm humbled, I'm honored to stand up here and represent the outstanding class of 2021 nominees and all of the previous winners."
While Whitworth expressed gratitude for claiming the NFL's top honor, he used his platform to call for more action when it comes to giving back, imploring his league brethren to invest in helping others.
"I'm here to tell you we have more work to do," Whitworth said. "Social media has been great for bringing awareness for all our causes. But that's not enough. We need more action. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, this is the truth: The people who come to see us play, who watch our game on TV, buy our jerseys, who follow you on social media, they're why our game exists. It's why we have a field to play on. We are financially supported and provided the opportunity to play a kids' game, because of the support we receive from communities across the county and across the world.
"But how are we supporting back? In what ways are we paying it forward to the same communities we all grew up in, we all came from, or maybe the people that we've seen struggling along the way we got to where we are?"
For Whitworth, contributing to the communities he calls or has called home breaks down rather simply: giving back financially, contributing your time or using your platform and voice to bring about change.
"It's called an investment," he said. "You can apply those three things to any charity or cause you have a passion for. You can invest your time, you can invest your finances or you can invest your voice, doesn't matter which, we just have to keep investing in each other. Let your heart lead you all the way."
The 40-year-old Whitworth is set to become the oldest starting offensive lineman in Super Bowl history when his Rams face his former squad, the Cincinnati Bengals, and on Thursday became the first Rams player to win the award since its inception in 1970. Whitworth is also the first offensive lineman named Man of the Year since the Baltimore Ravens' Matt Birk in 2011.
As the 2021 season played out with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Whitworth dealt with an ankle injury, helped the Rams to an NFC West title and Super Bowl berth and balanced it all with giving back in Southern California and beyond.
Whitworth launched the Big Whit Homes for L.A. Families program at the beginning of the season and pledged to donate $20,000 after each Rams home game. He also made donations to repair homes in his home state of Louisiana and moved Angelenos facing housing insecurity into affordable homes. In addition, Whitworth works with non-profits in L.A. to aid people in paying rent, buying groceries and offers support for down payments and the furnishing of home. When Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in August, Whitworth parented with Rebuilding Together to assist with essential home repairs to damaged homes.
As the Walter Payton MOTY, Whitworth receives a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice.
All 32 nominees for the Man of the Year, renamed after Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton beginning in 1999, receive a $40,000 donation in their name to charities of their choice.
Whitworth, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, is likely to go head-up with one of his fellow nominees, Bengals defensive lineman Sam Hubbard, on Sunday.
Should Whitworth and Los Angeles prevail in the Super Bowl, he'll be just the fourth player to win the award and the Super Bowl in the same season, joining Johnny Unitas (Baltimore Colts, 1970), Joe Greene (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1979) and Joe Theismann (Washington, 1982).
Regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl, though, Whitworth was the biggest winner on Thursday.
"So, keep investing, lead with your heart and I can't wait to watch the legacy continue," he said in closing. "Remember this, it's a blessing, not a burden, to carry on this NFL legacy."