CHARLOTTE -- For the second year in a row, tight end Greg Olsen is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
"It's a great honor. There are so many guys who do so much for the community, and to be chosen as one of three finalists for the second time is just awesome," Olsen said. "I'm really thankful for the team for selecting me and all the people who choose the finalists for having me again now. I'm looking forward to a great week down at the Super Bowl."
Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt are the other finalists. The winner will be announced in Minneapolis at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII, from 8-10 PM (ET and PT) on NBC.
$500,000 will be donated in the name of the 2017 winner. $250,000 will be donated to the winner's charity of choice and $250,000 will be donated in his name to expand Character Playbook across the country. The two other finalists will each receive a $100,000 donation to their charity of choice and a $100,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook.
For Olsen, winning Man of the Year would be a special moment for everyone in the congenital heart world, which he has helped through the work of his HEARTest Yard initiative.
"The biggest thing is what it would mean for the all the families that we try to support, the families that we feel we have a voice on behalf of," Olsen said. "The congenital heart world has really become our flagship program. It's a very tight-knit group of families that understand the challenges they face when you have a child born with CHD. I'd feel good for them that they'd be put on the map a bit so people would stop for however long to take notice of what a problem this is and how many people go through this."
On the field, Olsen is one of the NFL's best tight ends. A five-time team captain and three-time Pro Bowler, he is the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2014-16). Olsen ranks in the top 10 all-time in receptions and receiving yards and is approaching the top 10 in receiving touchdowns, among NFL tight ends.
It is no surprise that Olsen is a dependable, tough performer since his mom is also known for her tenacity and resolve. In 2009, after watching his mother tackle and survive breast cancer, Olsen founded Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation. His mission through the foundation is to ensure that everyone has a "second chance at life," just like his mother.
The foundation's Receiving Hope program focuses on cancer research, support and education programming. The program has distributed over $660,000 to six hospitals and foundations across the US since 2009, with funding generated by events chaired, planned, and executed entirely by Olsen. The program's most notable and largest fundraiser, "Kicks for a Cure", has raised over $850,000 in its eight-year history. The event, dubbed the "World's Largest Kickball Tournament," is held annually in Chicago.
In early 2013, Greg and his wife, Kara, created the HEARTest Yard Fund after a routine examination of their unborn son, T.J., revealed the infant had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a congenital defect marked by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta. The HEARTest Yard Fund, an umbrella program under The Receptions for Research Foundation, is a family service program administered in conjunction with Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. The cutting-edge program provides families of babies affected by congenital heart disease with a multitude of services including in-home, private nursing care, physical therapy and speech therapy, all at no cost to the families or hospital. The program provides about $25,000 - $30,000 worth of nursing care (approx. 460 hours) per family during the first six months of the baby's life. Since its inception, the fund has distributed nearly $2 million in support.
In November 2017, the HEARTest Yard's cutting-edge programming expanded when Greg and Kara announced the initiative's new cardiac neurodevelopmental program – the first and most comprehensive program of its kind in the southeast. The program will serve hundreds of "heart kids" annually, providing coordinated care from birth all the way through adulthood. The Olsens have personally contributed $750,000 to kick off the program.
Olsen's work to benefit those in need of a second chance goes far beyond Receptions for Research. In February 2013, he traveled to Raleigh, N.C. to lobby the North Carolina House of Representatives for legislation that would require mandatory heart disease screening for newborns. The bill went into effect in July 2014. The Olsens have also made a number of personal contributions to the hospital. In 2016, the family donated $150,000 to purchase new pediatric bypass pumps for the cardiac ICU. Olsen was also a driving force in creating the hospital's signature fundraising gala in 2015. In just three years, the gala has raised nearly $4 million. He is a spokesperson for the NFL's A Crucial Catch program, is an active participant in the team's Make-A-Wish granting program and has lent his celebrity star power to assist Beds for Kids, a non-profit organization that provides beds and other basic furniture to children and families in the Charlotte community. Greg and his mother, Susan, have also worked with the Levine Cancer Institute's Speak Pink program to raise over $100,000 for breast cancer research and screening programs. Most recently, Olsen designed a custom knit hat in support of Levine Children's Hospital. A limited number of the hats will go on sale Sunday in the Panthers' Team Store at Bank of America Stadium and online at shop.panthers.com. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Levine Children's Hospital.
In addition to their work with the hospital and local community, Greg and Kara host a variety of fundraisers throughout the year to benefit Receptions for Research. Efforts include an annual charity concert, speaking engagements, golf tournament, a 5K race, and a signature experience with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. All events are planned, coordinated and executed by Olsen and his team of volunteer board members. Since 2009, Receptions for Research has distributed over $3.5 million in support.
View photos of Greg Olsen and his family handing out custom beanies to patients Levine Children's Hospital.