CHARLOTTE - Derrick Brown never wants to place a limit on how he can serve his community.
When the Panthers' star defensive tackle is brainstorming ideas for The Derrick Brown Foundation Inc., he casts a wide net across Charlotte and his local community in Sugar Hill, Georgia.
"It was always kind of like, 'What do we want to be our main focus?' And I'm like, I want to be untraditional," Brown said. "I want to be able to just be untraditional and always be able to help the cause that's needed."
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With giving back a primary focus since he was drafted to the Panthers in 2020, Brown has been involved with helping at-risk youth and families for over two years. His foundation has impacted over 3,000 children through community events and programming and over 4,000 families through holiday gifting and resource distributions through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brown is Carolina's 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee, presented by Nationwide. The annual league-wide award recognizes outstanding community service as well as excellence on the field.
This year, Brown held a free youth football camp for 200 youth football players in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He supported 15 at-risk youth with a back-to-school shopping spree that included sneakers, clothing, and school supplies. He also provided nine students at Lanier High School, his alma mater, with The Georgia Brown and Bill Rias Scholarship, totaling $40,000.
Brown said he's reminded of his childhood when giving back, hoping to provide for children like he and his family received while he grew up.
"We didn't have everything, so we had people that would help us," Brown said. "I think about it all the time - those that helped me, helped my parents. It's just one of those things in life where I'm just like, all the moments that I had growing up, there's a kid out there just like me, growing up in that same situation I grew up in. I keep that mindset over and over and over again."
Throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown helped put together COVID-19 care baskets for five foster families needing essentials and supplies, which included $1,000 given to each family for day-to-day needs. He also held a drive-thru Halloween Extravaganza providing over $50,000 worth of in-kind Halloween costumes and candy.
Brown has also partnered with state officials and companies to combat food insecurity. His foundation feeds 100 veterans battling food insecurity each Veterans Day, started a program to give a shopping spree to 25 families in need, and provided 3,000 families in Gwinnett County with turkeys, produce, and non-perishable food for Thanksgiving.
For the past few summers, Brown has worked as a Nike community captain for his football camps in Sugar Hill, which include a donation of over $30,000 of in-kind support, gifts, food, and equipment.
Brown, a father of two, said he often involves his family in charitable work. He said finding meaningful ways to give back has been essential to his life since he started in the NFL.
"I'm in a position where I play sports, and that's my job for a living; I devote a lot of time to it, but at the same time, stepping away to be able to give back to others, it's a feeling that is so special," Brown said. "You can't buy it. You can't dream it. It's just an in-the-now, surreal moment."
Brown has also had a breakout season on the field. Through 12 games, the Panthers' starter has totaled a career-high 50 total tackles, the fourth-most among defensive tackles in the league. He also caught his first career interception with a one-handed grab against the Saints and has defended six passes, another career high.
All 32 team winners will be highlighted as nominees and recognized for their important work during the weekend leading up to Super Bowl LVII. The 2022 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air the Thursday before Super Bowl LVII, on NBC.
All 32 nominees will receive up to a $40,000 donation in their name to their charity of choice. The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award will receive up to a $250,000 donation to the charity of his choice. All donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans are encouraged to participate in Nationwide's 8th annual Charity Challenge, a social media campaign designed to support and promote team nominees. Fans can vote on Twitter by using #WPMOYChallenge followed by their favorite nominee's last name or Twitter handle. The player whose unique mention is used the most between Dec. 6 and Jan. 8 will receive a $25,000 contribution to his charity of choice, while the second and third place finishers will receive $10,000 and $5,000 donations, all courtesy of Nationwide. Hashtag information and official rules can be found at nfl.com/manoftheyear.