KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs have announced that LB
A Waco, Texas, native, and a Pro Bowl performer, Johnson has committed himself to both his on-the-field work, as well as his off-the-field efforts to help those in need, especially youth. His “Defend the Dream Foundation” was established to help make a difference in the lives of under-served children. To help reach those individuals, Johnson partnered with the United Way this year on its “Team NFL” campaign, striving to cut the country’s high school dropout rate in half by 2018. Johnson, along with other professional athletes, recruits volunteers in hopes of providing students with a support network of ample tutors. Through this initiative, he has provided incentives such as purchasing game tickets and offering memorabilia to help recruit pledges to join him in helping keep kids in school.
“Being nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is a great honor,” Johnson said. “While we are all concerned about what happens between the lines on Sunday as football players, being a good citizen and ambassador to the community is the part of the job that doesn’t get as much attention or recognition but remains very important to myself and many players on this team and around the league. It’s very humbling to be nominated to represent the Kansas City Chiefs for this prestigious award.”
Many of his outreach efforts hit close to home as well. Johnson has worked with the local chapter of the National Kidney Foundation. Johnson’s father, Wayne, passed away from complications due to diabetes. As a result, Derrick has served as a mouthpiece for the National Kidney Foundation in public service message and awareness programs, stressing the importance of taking care of one’s body.
His father also serves as the inspiration for Derrick’s work with the Armed Forces. Wayne Johnson earned a Navy Accommodation Medal for his acts of heroism during the Vietnam War. In recognition of his father’s efforts, Derrick spends his time supporting many military-backed initiatives. This past spring, Johnson visited Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., where he conversed with soldiers and their families before joining teammates in hosting a Chiefs Play 60 clinic for the base’s youth. He also visited the local VA Medical Center to boost the spirits of veterans receiving treatment there and has raised funds for Ft. Riley’s Wounded Warriors Transition Battalion.
Upon his arrival in Kansas City as a rookie in 2005, Johnson initially spearheaded the construction of three separate playgrounds. As a result, children from a trio of United Way agencies received new play structures. Prior to each build, Johnson helped the organization’s children design their dream playground. Then, on build day, he rolled up his sleeves and joined hundreds of volunteers to construct each play facility.
Throughout his career in Kansas City, Johnson has also taken an active role with Lift Up America’s Kansas City food distribution. In seven of his eight seasons in Kansas City, Johnson has asked teammates to join he and Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt in supporting more than 60 area food banks annually. In those years, Johnson and his teammates have loaded more than 250,000 pounds of food, helping feed some of the area’s most needy.
Johnson’s ferocity and passion enable him to tackle opposing ball carries as well as fortify a community in need.
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back, is unique among league honors as it represents the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence. While the accolade has been bestowed annually since 1970, no franchise has garnered more honorees than the Chiefs. Former Kansas City players who have taken home the Gladiator Statue include LB Willie Lanier (1972), QB Len Dawson (1973), LB Derrick Thomas (1993), G Will Shields (2003) and G Brian Waters (2009).