Though this year’s finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award were all deserving, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin was this year’s distinguished honoree, the NFL announced at its Honors ceremony Saturday.
The three-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl champion became the first 49ers player in the franchise’s illustrious history to take home the award, and the team congratulated him after the announcement:
Just after his rookie season in 2003, the 13-year veteran founded the Anquan Boldin Foundation, also known as Q81, which aims to enhance educational opportunities for underprivileged youth.
In the past decade-plus, Q81 has grown to the point where its website is the first item of an “Anquan Boldin” Google search—ahead of all his distinguished football accolades.
He’s expanded the core of Q81 to Phoenix, Baltimore, South Florida and the Bay Area, according to Andie Hagemann of NFL.com—all locations where he has played in the NFL and college.
His foundation contributed $10,000 to academic scholarships last fall, and Boldin has pledged another $1 million to take the initiative further, per Hagemann.
Despite many contributions from players across the league, Boldin believes there is still room for improvement, particularly among younger players, per Tyler Emerick of 49ers.com:
I get so many young guys who come up to me for advice on how to start – that’s why we’re doing this. Help is only a phone call away. Go straight to the source instead of making all the mistakes. I’ve been in the league 13 years and I’m still learning, but I know a lot more than I did back then.
I’ve known guys who start foundations and then run into whatever situation and then stop. If they would’ve had someone there to help them and show them the right way to do it, their foundations would probably still be up and running.
I want to give guys the opportunity to be successful from the start and have a person they can go to for help.
Boldin added that he’d happily help players find and create opportunities to contribute away from the field.
"I don’t think there’s enough information out there for young guys coming into this league,” Boldin said, per Emerick. "I think that would be a great help before they have to jump in and do things on their own."
The other finalists were New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who said he was honored just to be considered for the award, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
Eli Manning from yesterday: "You don’t lose this award. To be recognized, to be here, we’re all winners. ...— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) February 7, 2016
Boldin, 35, is an impending free agent but has some gas left in the tank after finishing last season with 789 yards and four touchdowns for a mediocre 49ers offense. He said in November he had no intentions to retire this year, and given his on-field contributions in 2015, he should land somewhere, if not in San Francisco.