Russell Wilson has spent his nine-year career in Seattle establishing himself as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, a Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl champion who has been equal parts productive, exciting and clutch while helping lead the Seahawks on the most successful run in franchise history.
In Seattle, Wilson has also become a world-class philanthropist, and in some ways, all of it—the on-field success, the huge impact in the community—started with a rhetorical question that Harrison Wilson III used to ask his three kids, Russell, Harrison IV and Anna.
Why not you?
Why not play professional baseball and college football at the same time? Why not become an NFL quarterback? Why not a Super Bowl champion? But Harrison and Tammy Wilson didn't just encourage their kids in sports, they instilled in them values that made them exceptional humans as well.
And now, 10 years after Harrison Wilson III died from complications of diabetes, Wilson is exceeding even the loftiest expectations a parent could place on a child, both on the football field and in the community, and as a result he has been named the Seahawks' nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which was established in 1970 and renamed for the Hall of Fame running back in 1999, recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant impact on his community.
Wilson, who was also nominated in 2014, is just the fourth player in franchise history to be nominated for the award multiple times, joining Jon Kitna, Eugene Robinson and Mike Tice. All 32 Man of the Year nominees receive a $40,000 donation in their name to the charity of their choice, and winner receives a $250,000 donation to their charity of choice. The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner will be announced on NFL Honors during the week of Super Bowl LV.
Wilson and his wife, Ciara, have been giving back in numerous ways over the years, first and foremost through their Why Not You Foundation, which was established to empower change in the world, one individual at a time. Since it launched in 2014, the Why Not You Foundation, in partnership with Safeway and Albertsons, has donated over $9 million to Strong Against Cancer to fund life-saving immunotherapy treatment. Additionally, over $1 million has been raised for Friends of the Children, a nationwide organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. And dating back to his rookie season, Wilson has made weekly visits to kids at Seattle Children's Hospital, though this year those visits have been virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think it's so important to give back and to serve, because God's given me an amazing opportunity to love and make a difference," Wilson said. "Where much is given, much is required. The reality is I have been blessed with the opportunity to hopefully bring a smile to a young kid's face. My efforts, along with those of the Why Not You Foundation, have really been dedicated to uplifting youth, the health of the youth, and to help impact education positively to provide more opportunities for youth.
"For Ciara and I, especially with everything that's happened in 2020 in particular, it's been really important, more-so necessary, to step up and try to make a difference in areas like racism, social injustice, and food insecurity and to be able to impact a family that is facing tough challenges. Since I got here in 2012, I understood there was an opportunity to use my platform to love, serve, and give back. That's been one of the core principles of life that my parents taught me. It's a principle Ciara and I want to be able to teach not only our kids, but their kids one day."
As Wilson notes, 2020 has presented a number of unique challenges for the world, our country and our region, due to both the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing fight against racism and injustice that took on new energy this year following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered while on a run.
And in this difficult year, Wilson and Ciara have stepped up to the challenge. Early in the pandemic, Wilson and Ciara personally pledged 1 million meals to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Wanting to do even more, Wilson partnered with the aviation company Wheels Up to launch the Meals Up initiative that had, as of October, raised the equivalent of more than 47 million meals.
The Why Not You Foundation also partnered with United Way Worldwide, Rockefeller Foundation, and Door Dash to expand Ride United to deliver food and supplies to vulnerable populations in 175 communities in the United States, a program that has made more than a million deliveries since its launch this year. The newly-established Seattle program has become the "pilot program" to be used as a model nationally. And through a partnership with Safeway and Albertsons, the program has expanded beyond food banks to include grocery stores. Due in large part to Wilson's and the Why Not You Foundation's involvement and innovation, Seattle will soon become the region that distributes the highest number of food boxes.
This year has also seen Wilson become more outspoken in the fight against systemic racism, with Wilson using his platform to fight for change. Wilson co-hosted the 2020 ESPY Awards with fellow Seattle sports stars Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, and he opened the show in a Black Lives Matter shirt, delivering a powerful monologue on pioneering Black athletes and the role sports can have in the fight against racism. At the same time, Wilson and Ciara secured billboards and digital message boards in communities across the country reading, "Black Lives Matter, Love Russell & Ciara."
Wilson also used his considerable platform to encourage voting, especially among young people and communities of color, through the I AM A VOTER campaign.
Wilson and Ciara also recently announced the founding of the Why Not You Academy, a tuition-free public charter school in Des Moines, Washington that is set to open in the fall of 2021.
Even more details of Wilson’s philanthropy can be found here.
And of course, Wilson has continued to thrive on the field as well, playing at a high level to help lead the Seahawks to an 8-4 record through 12 games. A seven-time Pro-Bowler and a second-team All-Pro last year, Wilson currently ranks second in the NFL in touchdown passes (32), third in completion percentage (70.0), fifth in passer rating (107.6) and third in passing yards (3,479). Earlier this season, Wilson became the second quarterback in league history, along with Peyton Manning, with 3,000 or more yards and 20-plus touchdowns in each of his first nine seasons. Seattle's next win will also secure a winning record for the Seahawks, something they have accomplished every year with Wilson under center, including playoff berths every year but 2017.
With all Wilson has accomplished on and off the field over the past nine seasons with the Seahawks, Harrison III would surely be proud of his son if he were still alive. He'd also probably have a question for him.
Why not the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year?
Russell Wilson's community service efforts have been numerous and varied, a big reason he has received the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award and 2022 Bart Starr Award. Take a look at photos of Wilson in the community from throughout his time with the Seahawks.