Oakland Raiders LB Sam Williams has been nominated for the national Walter Payton Man of the Year 2009 award, which honors a player for his community, volunteer and charity work. One player from each NFL team is chosen for a local award and nominated for the national award.
According to the NFL, "The man of the year is selected by an elite panel of judges including NFL former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner Roger Goodell, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, Connie Payton (wife of the late Walter Payton), and former players Frank Gifford, Jack Kemp, Anthony Munoz and the previous year's Award winner." The winner of the award receives $25,000 for the charity of his choice. The 31 individual team winners receive $1,000 each for their charities, and three finalists receive an additional $5,000 each for their charity of choice.
The Raiders chose LB Sam Williams as their 2009 local award winner and national nominee.
As a professional athlete, Williams has been active in the community for many years. His community commitment has grown this year, as he continues to honor his friend and teammate Marquis Cooper, who was killed in a boating accident off the coast of Florida this past March. One of Cooper's many goals was to regularly give back to the community. Williams wishes to honor his friend's memory and follow in his footsteps by making a difference in the lives of others.
Williams has participated in Raiders' community events nearly every week. "Talking to the students at Frick Middle School was by far one of my most memorable moments," Williams said. "After losing a fellow classmate (Alana Williams) in a hit and run which was witnessed by all, I had the opportunity to speak to them about turning a tragic moment into something positive. I was able to relate the loss of my good friend Marquis to the loss of their classmate and I was able to share about how Marquis affected me." The students took strength from Williams' stories and were inspired to continue on their positive paths.
Williams also attended an event at Centerville Junior High, speaking to young football players and underrepresented students about the importance education for their future. The students listened intently and questioned Williams about how to succeed in the face of adversity. Williams answered their questions, instilling hope into the young students and encouraging them to go out and achieve their dreams.
Williams' charitable work continued at the Inaugural Raiders and American Red Cross blood drive. Williams signed autographs for the prize raffle, posed for pictures, and was a welcoming presence for those giving blood. He has also attended multiple Gatorade Junior Training Camps assisting with football drills and teaching young students the importance of daily exercise.
In addition to events scheduled through the Raiders, Williams chose to give back to the community on his own. According to Williams, he "spoke at a career day at Raymond Case Elementary School in Elk Grove, sponsored 6th grade students at the same school for a science camp, and talked to inmates at Folsom State prison who graduated from the drug rehabilitation programs." Seeing the reactions of the people he has inspired has encouraged Williams to find a way to continue giving back. He has recently created his own foundation; something Williams knows his friend Marquis Cooper would be proud of.
The foundation, "Tackling the Odds," was established "to provide and enhance education, health, sports empowerment, leadership and mentoring opportunities for children, with an emphasis on disadvantaged youth who are in need of support academically and/or athletically," according to Williams. He hopes to achieve these goals through the provision of scholarships to children, collaborating with businesses, providing public forums for discussion, and creating opportunities for instruction and training. The foundation provides Williams an opportunity to continue his community work long after his NFL career ends.
Williams' final and most important focus is finding ways to help provide for Marquis Cooper's family, specifically Cooper's daughter, Delaney. In collaboration with Raiders RB Justin Fargas, Williams put together a song called "Message in a Bottle," written for Delaney as a way for her to remember her father and his impact on the Raiders and the community. Additionally, both players created a website (thisisforgoose.com) and designed a t-shirt to raise money for Delaney, who they call "Goose." Williams hopes that these actions provide relief to Cooper's family and create a lasting impression of Marquis Cooper for his daughter, Delaney.
Sam Williams has made his mark on the Raiders community over the past year, earning his first Man of the Year award. He says he "is honored to even receive the nomination." As his foundation takes off and he continues his work in the community, Williams will make a lasting impression on the Raider Nation as a player who is dedicated to and cares about making a difference.