AJ Cole has no intention of wasting the platform he's been given.
Cole, coming off Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro selections in 2021, has become a household name for Raider Nation and around the city of Las Vegas. The punter received the team's nomination for Walter Payton Man of the Year for his work contributing to the local community – especially his work with Special Olympics Nevada, a cause he's been involved with since college.
"It's something I've always been passionate about, an organization that I've worked with," Cole said. "Special Olympics Nevada is not really its own chapter right now. They're working kind of with, but underneath, Special Olympics California. We're hoping that the donation from Nationwide and the NFL will be a step in the right direction to becoming their own chapter and will kind of give them their own freedom to do whatever it is they want to do and use that money however they want to use it."
Each Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee will receive up to a $40,000 donation in their name to the charity of their choice, with the winner of the league award receiving up to a $250,000 donation.
"It's definitely something I'm passionate with, an organization that I've worked a lot with since [the Raiders] have been out here in Vegas and it's an organization I'm going to keep working with," Cole said of Special Olympics Nevada. "I'm really excited to highlight them and honor them with this award."
The Atlanta, Georgia, native credits his father for being a first-hand example of how to selflessly serve others, and Cole strives to continue to do so through his own philanthropic efforts.
"My dad was a great example for me growing up about what servant leadership looks like," the punter said. "What someone who really puts others first and humbles themselves looks like.
"I've obviously been so blessed to be in this position, playing this game. I really think the reason that I've been put in this position is so that I have the opportunity to serve," Cole added. "I don't think it's something I should do or it's just an added bonus, I think it's honestly the reason. Any opportunity I have to be in the community, work with kids or work with any group of people and make a positive impact is the reason that I feel like I've been given this job and given this opportunity and this platform that I have."
He describes the nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year as "an amazing honor." It means a lot to him to be recognized for his off-the-field activities, which he takes more pride in than anything he does as a football player.
"It's more than just football. It's the way that people see you. It's the impact you have on them," he said. "The football accomplishments are great. They're awesome. We spend all day working for them, putting our absolute all into them and they're certainly significant. But I think the impact you have on people and the way you make people feel and the impact in that way lasts a lot longer.
"It's not something that rests with time. It's something that has eternal impact."
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's Charity Challenge (now through January 8, 2023), a social media campaign which gives fans the opportunity to show support for Cole as the Silver and Black's WPMOY nominee and offers the Raiders punter a chance to secure additional donations from Nationwide for Special Olympics Nevada. Fans are encouraged to vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge and AJ Cole or #WPMOYChallenge and @AJCole90.
Punter AJ Cole has been selected as the Raiders' nominee for the 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award presented by Nationwide, which recognizes outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.