For Cam Heyward, the sixth time was the charm. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee six times and for the last three seasons, Heyward finally was named the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year during Thursday night’s NFL Honors.
The announcement was leaked on Twitter roughly ten minutes into tonight’s ceremony but wasn’t officially awarded until the end.
Accepting the award, an emotional Heyward reflected on what it meant. He thanked a group of people but had a heartfelt message to and about his family, especially his mother, Charlotte Heyward.
“This might be a little bit hard for me,” Heyward said. “When I talk about my family, I talk about my mom. When my dad passed away, there was only one person who stepped up for my family. And she stepped up for my foundation. I play football and I get a chance to give back, but I can’t do everything. And so she picks up the slack for our foundation. There’s not anybody in Pittsburgh that doesn’t know her name. And it’s all for the right reasons. My wife, you are my rock. You push me. You’re there for me. You’re the love of my life, and I’m thankful for that.
“My brothers, Corey, Craig, Connor, my sister Megan. We’re a roughhouse group, but we get a chance to play around with each other. We get a chance to be apart of what my dad started. It’s truly special.”
Heyward has been a staple of the Pittsburgh community throughout his career. Following the footsteps of his father the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, he has started several initiatives during the course of his Steelers’ career. He founded the Heyward House to serve underprivileged kids in the Pittsburgh community.
For the second year, he held “Cam’s Kindness Week,” a week-long list of events to help different sectors of the community. He visited Children’s Hospital, opened another Craig’s Close, donating dress clothes to kids who can’t afford them, attended the Caring Place to speak with kids who lost a parent, among other events throughout the week.
“I really do enjoy giving back to the community and this just really highlights everything my foundation does, everything my teammates try to contribute,” Heyward told Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley last October. “It’s a celebration to try to give back to our community.”
Here is the award winner video the ceremony played prior to Heyward stepping on stage to give his acceptance speech.
Heyward was joined by several of his Steelers’ teammates during Thursday’s ceremony. Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and his father Joey Sr. attended. As did RB Najee Harris. Even head coach Mike Tomlin made an appearance. He made sure to thank the Steelers’ organization for their support in providing a platform for Heyward to give back, helping him become this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year.
“Ever since I’ve been a Pittsburgh Steeler, I’ve always thought God and my dad had a plan for me. And I’m living it right now. I want to say thank you to the Pittsburgh Steelers for giving me this opportunity. Mike T, it’s an honor to be coached by you. I couldn’t play for any other other coach. To my teammates. I’m thankful to be your teammate. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not touched…you give me a chance to give back and you support me. I have to say thank you to the Steelers organization. Mr. Rooney, Dan Rooney.
Tomlin sent out this heartfelt tweet congratulating Heyward on winning the award.
“I also have to give a big shout out to my community people, Blair, Angela, Burt, you guys do an amazing job. Omar. You give me a chance to give back. You give me a chance to go out there and affect my community.”
Heyward thanked the Walter Payton family for their support and carrying on their father’s legacy.
“You are creating more of his legacy. You are making this award what it is today. The work you guys do is truly special. And to be up here today, I can’t think of a better man to represent this award and it’s because of you guys. When I talk about my dad, he wore number 34. He’s been with me the entire time. He’s been with me every step of the way. But I know there was another 34 that was helping me. This man, Walter Payton. He’s done so much on and off the field and he’s changed so many lives that now I have the opportunity to be part of such a great fraternity.”
Heyward concluded his speech with a powerful message to the NFL community and anyone listening to him accept the award.
“This award is great and I appreciate it, but I understand I’ve got more work to do. I’ve got to make sure I represent this man every day going forward. And so I ask you guys, my brothers, keep doing the work. Keep being the positive role models you are. I know it’s not always pretty. I know a lot of people like to talk about the other stuff, but you guys are the change. You guys are making a difference and I’m just thankful for that. And last thing, if you are a young child and you are part of the youth. Just know whether you’re struggling, you’re hurting, and you’re just looking for somebody to have your back, I’ve got you.”
Though it’s disappointing to see T.J. Watt snubbed of Defensive Player of the Year, Heyward’s honor tonight certainly makes up for it. An award Heyward has been aiming to win for years, he embodies what it means to be a Steeler on and off the field.
After the ceremony, the team posted this video of Heyward holding the award.
“I’m just very honored to now represent the entire league but also Steelers’ Nation…I understand the guys who won it. Franco, Lynn Swann, Joe Greene. It’s an honor to win this award. I’m excited to bring this back to Pittsburgh. We’ve got more work to do.”
Heyward becomes the fifth Steeler to be named Walter Payton Man of the Year, joining RB Franco Harris (1976), DT Joe Greene (1979), WR Lynn Swann (1981), and RB Jerome Bettis (2001).
Listen to Heyward’s entire speech before. It’s well worth your time.