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Emotional Cam Heyward Thanks Family, Steelers; Honors Father after Winning Walter Payton Award



Steelers Cam Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward won the NFL’s most prestigious honor on Thursday, earning the lifetime achievement award that is the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.

A teary eyed Heyward accepted the award, which is sponsored by Payton’s wife and children, and was presented by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex.

Heyward had been previously nominated for the award, which is given for excellence on the field and a player’s commitment to philanthropy and charity work. Heyward credited and thanked his family, the Steelers organization and teammates, but the theme of his acceptance speech was his father, former NFL running back Craig Heyward.

Heyward lost his father when he was in high school, and one of the charitable causes that Heyward supports is the Highmark Caring Place, a center for children and adolescents that are grieving and dealing with loss.

His award ceremony began with a pre-recorded video of an appearance Heyward made at the Caring Place during the Steelers’ bye week this season, and a young Steelers fan asking him what he would tell his dad if he could talk to him today.

“I would tell him that I love him,” Heyward said. “There’s not a day goes by I don’t miss you and that we’re gonna continue to just try to make you proud. I lost not only my dad but my best friend.”

“Ever since I’ve been a Pittsburgh Steeler,” he continued on-stage at Resorts World Theater in Las Vegas. “I’ve thought God and my dad had a plan for me and I’m living it right now.”

Heyward said that when his father died, he took it upon himself to take up the mantle of his leadership of not just his family, but the community.

“My dad was obviously a football player, but he was so much more than that,” Heyward said. “My dad was a larger than life personality. He had a job to do inspiring others. Being there for his family. He impacted the community and I felt like when he passed away, it was my responsibility to take up. …

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad, but doing the work, it’s cathartic. I can not only exercise giving back, I can exercise being close to my dad.”

Heyward said that when his father was a running back at Pitt, Craig Heyward only owned one suit. One of the first ways he found to give back to the Pittsburgh community carries his father’s name. Craig’s Closet gives suits to young men in the Pittsburgh area for job interview, college applications or formal events. 

Heyward said that he stills misses his father, but feels that the work he’s doing in his name makes him even happier.

“I do often still get sad,” he said. “As much as I still get sad, I’m happy for the moments. My dad has a legacy and I want to continue to expand it. That’s what my foundation is about. I want people to know that everything I do is because I’ve lost people in my life. You can still keep battling back you can still keep living your life and making people proud of you.”

Heyward specifically thanked many members of the Steelers staff, including former chairman Dan Rooney, president Art Rooney II, general manager Omar Khan, head coach Mike Tomlin and his teammates.

“I want to say thank you to the Pittsburgh Steelers for giving me this opportunity,” Heyward said. “Mike T, it’s an honor to be coached by you. I couldn’t play for any other coach. To my teammates, I’m thankful to be your teammates. There’s not a day goes by that I’m not touched, I don’t get a chance to interact with you guys. You push me. You give me a chance to give back, and you support me.”

Though the 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive lineman was teary-eyed throughout, he got especially emotional when thanking his mother, Charlotte Heyward-Wesley.

“When I talk about my family, I talk about my mom,” he said. “When my dad passed away, there was only one person who stepped up for my family, and she stepped up as our foundation. I play football and I get a chance to give back, but I can’t do everything. She picks up the slack for our foundation. There’s not anyone in Pittsburgh that doesn’t know her name, and it’s all for the right reasons.”

Heyward became the fifth player in franchise history to win the award, and the first since Jerome Bettis in 2001. He joins Bettis, Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Lynn Swann as Steelers to earn the NFL’s highest individual honor.