ATLANTA – Chris Long was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year for his community service and philanthropic endeavors during the NFL Honors award ceremony Saturday night at the Fox Theatre.
The Eagles defensive end had been nominated three years before with the Rams, but his more than a decade of service in the St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia communities, not to mention in impoverished African towns, made the 33-year-old as good a choice as any of the other 31 nominees who were present.
“It’s a tremendous honor. It’s not why we do the work we do off the field,” Long said afterward during a brief news conference. “I think the other 31 nominees are remarkable men. … I’m very humbled. It’s hard to feel deserving with those guys on the stage and this guy [Payton] on the statue.
“It’s a very heavy statue. It makes sense because his legacy is immense.”
The mission of Long’s foundation is to impact local communities around the world by focusing on three main philanthropic causes: clean water, military appreciation, and youth education.
Waterboys, his cornerstone initiative, has already surpassed its original goal – to build 32 clean-water wells in East African communities in need – and is nearly one-fourth of the way to providing clean water to one million people.
In 2017 and 2018, Long donated his base salaries to educational programs nationwide. He helped provide free books, literary resources, and mentoring services to families in need. He funded scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va., and he supported programs that promote educational equity in St. Louis, Boston, and Philly.
In total, Long’s efforts over the last two seasons have yielded $2.25 million in donations to educational equity programs.
The Chris Long Foundation will receive a $250,000 donation, and an additional $250,000 will be donated to United Way in his name.
“We can dig a lot of wells with that,” Long said.
Next month, Long will climb Mount Kilimanjaro for the third straight year in order to raise awareness for clean water. Last year, former Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin went along. This year, Eagles center Jason Kelce and former Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen are going.
Long, after the announcement, thanked the Eagles organization and his teammates, specifically safety Malcolm Jenkins and receiver Alshon Jeffery, who were in attendance. He thanked the people of St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia, which he called home.
When Long held a dinner for his foundation during his first season with the Eagles, he said, he raised $200,000 despite being new to the city.
“That’s how loving and welcoming the people of Philadelphia are,” Long said.
Long’s father, Howie, who played at Villanova, was also in attendance, along with his mother, Diane, his brother, Kyle, who plays for the Bears, and his wife, Megan. He thanked them and his sons, Waylon and Luke, who were at home “hopefully in bed.”
“My lasting legacy is what kind of person I am, hopefully,” Long said. “And I’m going to fall short a lot. I’m going to have days when I’m not the Walter Payton Man of the Year. If my sons see me as a role model, then mission accomplished.”
Long spent his first eight NFL seasons with Rams and never made the playoffs. But he won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Patriots and Eagles in 2016-17. He has one year left on his contract with the Eagles, but he said that he wants a significant role if he’s to return.
“My career’s been summed up in having a run of bad luck that lasted eight years and now a run of good that’s been three years,” Long said. “Things all even out. A lot of work my wife and I did in St. Louis flew under the radar and that’s OK because we don’t do things ideally for any attention.
“But when you’re on good teams, teams that win championships, and compete for championships in big markets, it does nothing but elevate your platform.”