It wasn’t surprising to anyone when Andrew Whitworth was named the Los Angeles Rams’ 2021 season nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, an honor that recognizes NFL players who have exhibited excellence on the field, and whose passion to impact lives extends beyond the game.
The veteran tackle’s impact on the LA community is only surpassed by his performance on the field. Nicknamed Big Whit, Big Uncle, Unc, Big Brother and other monikers for “old man” by fellow Rams players, Whitworth made history on Dec. 13 by becoming the first tackle over the age of 40 to start an NFL game. “He sure has meant a lot to this organization both on and off the field,” head coach Sean McVay said, according to ESPN. “I think sometimes you take for granted that he’s 40 years old. If you didn’t know with the bald head and stuff like that, I mean he moves around like he’s young and he’s got great athleticism.”
Big birthday coming up for Andrew Whitworth, who will become the first NFL player to start at left tackle at age 40 when the Rams play the Cardinals on MNF. Whitworth also joins Tom Brady as only the second 40-year-old to currently be playing in the league https://t.co/AwptCfks7W— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) December 8, 2021
Aside from protecting Matthew Stafford and ensuring that the quarterback has only been sacked 17 times this season, the 6-foot-7, 330-pound tackle has also used his huge influence over younger teammates to encourage them to help local causes. While Whitworth is a native of the other LA (i.e. the Louisiana city of Monroe), he’s adopted SoCal as his home in all ways since signing with the Rams in March 2017.
The Big Whit 77 Foundation was initially launched in partnership with his wife, Melissa, to fund a number of worthy causes, including the “Whit’s Warriors Scholarship” program, which helps students fund higher education; Open Arms, following the belief that every child deserves a loving and supportive home; and the Wish List Event, gifting presents to Louisiana families over the holiday season.
In March 2020, Whitworth and then-Rams quarterback Jared Goff quickly responded to the hunger crisis in Los Angeles at the onset of the pandemic when they each donated $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to help fund 1 million meals for the local community.
“Tough times, like what we’re experiencing now, really show you the true value and importance of community,” Whitworth said at the time, according to a press release from the team. “We’re here to wrap our arms around our hurting neighbors, let them know that they aren’t forgotten, and that we are here for them.”
Of course, no one could imagine just how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last. It has impacted countless lives and businesses since, with family-run restaurants among the hardest hit. One of those that was at a risk of closure was The Serving Spoon in Inglewood, close to SoFi Stadium, where owners Angela and JC Johnson had to pay staff out of their personal savings just to stay afloat. When the Johnsons posted a GoFundMe video pleading for support, Andrew and Melissa were among those who came to the rescue and donated $50,000 to save the local institution from closure. Not surprisingly, the couple have an open invitation for free food any time they want!
2020 was also a year full of civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd. The tragedy and subsequent protests inspired Whitworth to challenge his teammates to donate to social justice non-profits, promising to match all their donations. In 2020 alone, Whitworth contributed more than $215,000 to the players’ social justice fund and supported 25 Los Angeles non-profits working to address education inequities, community-police relations, mentorship programming, prison reform/anti-recidivism, youth justice, workforce development, financial literacy, food insecurity and homelessness.
Recently, Whitworth’s main philanthropic focus has been on “Big Whit Homes for LA Families” program, which he launched at the beginning of 2021 and committed to donating $20,000 after each home game to repair homes in his home state of Louisiana, while also moving Angelenos facing housing insecurity into affordable homes. Anyone who lives in the LA-area is greatly aware of the high cost of housing and mounting homeless crisis, so every effort to resolve that is very much needed. According to a media release by the Rams, Whitworth is working with non-profits to help individuals pay for rent and groceries, support down payments, and furnish homes.
“I never forget the moments spent out in the community and I’ve appreciated the Rams and the job they have done to be my partner in making a difference for people who deserve our support,” Whitworth said. “To me, one of the longest-lasting things we can do and one of the greatest impacts we can have is not only to win football games, but to win in the communities where we live. That’s how you create a culture that expands outside your building.
“Sports in general is about support. I think of it as a father, and I’m there to support and watch them no different than a community is there to support and watch us every single week. My way of showing that support back is to make sure that I’m in the community helping people so they can take that next step they want to take in their life, the same way that I’ve been supported my entire career. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play in the NFL, but I’m most thankful for the opportunity to impact lives.”
The four-time Pro Bowler’s efforts in the community have not gone unnoticed by his team, either, with Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff praising his spirit and hard work.
“From the moment Andrew became a Los Angeles Ram, he established himself as a cornerstone of our organization through his unmatched leadership, his commitment to serving others, and his ability to inspire those around him to be the best versions of themselves,” Demoff said. “We are grateful to have leaders like Andrew, who leaves us in awe with his ageless talent on the field and with his dedication to improving the lives of so many in our city and beyond.”
For more inspiring stories of off-the-field MVPs from around the league, visit the SB Nation Community Impact channel.