The Atlanta Falcons have named defensive end Steven Means as their nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Means first joined the Falcons in 2018; he has become an impactful player on the field, but that is far exceeded by his impact off of it. A leader on the team's Social Justice Committee, Means was instrumental in the Falcons' initiative of educating local youth in the voting space.
Utilizing his relationships with high school football teams around the state, Means helped encourage players to sign up and work as poll workers on Election Day. Those students got a first-hand look at the importance voting can play in a democracy via one of the tightest races in the 2020 election. Means spent time during his days off participating in Zoom calls with high school players, encouraging them to do their part to get involved.
"Voting is the number one thing we believe in and that we are driving hard on because we can get the right people in the right place to make a change," said Means.
That time and energy did not go unappreciated.
"When Steven Means was talking about his experiences, it just motivated me to want to get out there and help make a change in the world like they do," said King Walker, a football player at Booker T. Washington on the Westside of Atlanta.
Means has been involved in community work in every single season he's been a Falcon. During training camp in 2019, Means invited Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam – three members of the Exonerated Five – for a VIP visit to the Falcons' training facility and a conversation with the team about social justice and how to make an impact.
During his first season with the team, Means spearheaded multiple police ride-alongs for players and coaches to help them better understand the day-to-day life of law enforcement. That understanding he also sought to bring to the community by visiting the Thomasville Heights Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta, which had a police mentoring program in place. Means, along with teammates such as Grady Jarrett, sought to foster conversations between officers and local youth to better bridge the gap between the two parties.
"Steven has been a beloved figure of our community for certainly it feels like a long time," Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris said. "Now, to get him on the practice field, to get him out playing in the games and to watch him be productive has been awesome because of the great guy and the character that he carries around here every day. I don't know a person in this building that can't give you high regard for Steven Means when it comes to being a person, a football player, a guy you want to be around and just an all-around great guy."
Resilience is a quality that can be ascribed to Steven Means both on and off the field. The 30-year-old defensive end sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in the offseason ahead of the 2019 season. The Falcons had high hopes for Means after he impressed in a rotational role in 2018, his first year with the club, but those hopes were put on pause as he worked his way back from the injury.
Means accomplished his comeback, returning to the field for 2020 season. A leader in the locker room, Means has started seven games for the Falcons. His most recent two games – against the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints – have been the best of the season. Means has a combined nine tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in those two games, and he has 33 tackles, three tackles for a loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles this season.
The Atlanta Falcons have named Steven Means as their nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Take a look at the defensive end in the community before Covid-19 protocols.
"He's my roommate in our dorms," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "So, I get to see him a little bit more. I can tell you this, he's got great work ethic. He's always doing pushups or lifting weights or doing crazy stuff like that at all times of the day. I've walked through the dorm before and seen him doing complete workouts in the dorm, so he's an animal, there's no question about it."
The winner of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field, $250,000 donated to United Way in his name and up to $250,000 donated to the winner's charity of choice.
Click HERE to watch the 11th annual, and first-ever virtual, Atlanta Falcons Community Honors Show presented by Georgia Power is hosted by Justin Felder, Fox 5 Sports Reporter. The show features several exclusive videos with special guests including Arthur Blank, Steve Cannon, Rich McKay, Angie Blank, Matt Ryan, Ricardo Allen, Chris Millman and more. The show is a celebration of the team's community efforts this past year and will announce the Atlanta Falcons Walter Payton Man of the Year, showcase our Salute to Service Award winner, highlight the Social Justice Committee's efforts and more.
The Atlanta Falcons have named Steven Means as their nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Take a look at the defensive end in action.