Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, left, who raised $37 million in three weeks for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Houston, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award on Saturday night. The Baltimore Ravens’ Benjamin Watson and Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen were also finalists for the the award that recognizes community service Matt Slocum AP
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, left, who raised $37 million in three weeks for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Houston, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award on Saturday night. The Baltimore Ravens’ Benjamin Watson and Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen were also finalists for the the award that recognizes community service Matt Slocum AP

Carolina Panthers

Texans’ J.J. Watt’s storm-relief efforts earn NFL Man of Year honors

February 03, 2018 09:02 PM

MINNEAPOLIS

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was a finalist for the NFL Man of the Year Award for the second consecutive year, but ran into some tough competition from a timely winner.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who raised $37 million in three weeks for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Houston, won the award that recognizes community service and is named in honor of former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton.

The announcement came Saturday night at the NFL Honors program at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

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Olsen, who’s done extensive work for pediatric heart patients in Charlotte, also was a finalist last year when Larry Fitzgerald and Eli Manning shared the honor.

Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who went to high school in Rock Hill, was this year’s other finalist. Watson has led efforts to combat human trafficking and violence against the poor.

Linebacker Thomas Davis became the Panthers’ first Man of the Year winner after the 2014 season.

Olsen played in just seven games in 2017 after breaking his foot in a Week 2 win against Buffalo. He’s the first tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Olsen and his wife, Kara, established the HEARTest Yard Fund in 2013 after tests revealed their unborn son, T.J., had a congenital heart condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.

The program provides families of babies with congenital heart disease with assistance for in-home and private nursing care, as well as physical and speech therapy.

Olsen and his wife, Kara, seen here Saturday night in Minneapolis, established the HEARTest Yard Fund in 2013 after tests revealed their unborn son, T.J., had a congenital heart condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
Peter Barreras Invision for NFL

The Olsens brought T.J. home after 40 days in the hospital. With T.J. needing two open-heart surgeries in his first six months, the Olsens hired a private nurse to live with them.

“The reality is not everybody was in the position of us to pay almost $10,000 a month for round-the-clock healthcare in your home,” Olsen said this week.

In November the Olsens announced the expansion of the HEARTest Yard with a new cardiac neurodevelopmental program – the first and most comprehensive such program in the Southeast.

While the survivor rate for children with heart issues has improved over the years, doctors at the Levine Children’s Hospital told the Olsens that adding a cardiac center could help those children enjoy a better quality of life.

“We just felt this was the way we could continue to wrap our arms around more children,” Olsen said.

Charlotte Observer Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue discusses how the Carolina Panthers have become so successful as the season has progressed with the trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the development of Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey and the return of Greg Olsen. Jeff Sinerjsiner@charlotteobserver.com