By Christina Rivers

For the first time in the history of the National Football League, 32 players have been nominated by their teammates – one player per team – to be awarded the NFL Sportsmanship Award. The award recognizes NFL players who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected veteran safety Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu is a soft-spoken, big-hearted man off the field who has given so much to not only the Pittsburgh area, but also American Samoa.  Polamalu has worked with veterans and children alike. On the field, Polamalu has been one of the hardest-hitting and elusive safeties to play football in the modern era. His acrobatics and ability to predict the snap count are overshadowed only by the way Polamalu has earned the respect of his teammates, coaches and opponents. Polamalu has demonstrated throughout his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers an ability to play with integrity.

In an effort to recognize players who represent their teams and the league with respect for the game, the NFL will annually present the NFL Sportsmanship Award to just one player in the league among the 32 finalists. For its inaugural year, Polamalu is also joined by former Steelers safety Ryan Clark (Washington Redskins) and several players who have been instrumental in setting a positive example for their teams.

A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community will select from the 32 nominees eight finalists (four in the AFC; four in the NFC). The panel includes Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg, Leonard Wheeler and Warrick Dunn this year. The eight finalists will then be listed on the Pro Bowl ballet on December 19 when the players vote. From the eight finalists selected, each team’s players, according to the league, will submit a consensus vote, but cannot vote for its own player.

Dave Wilson, a huge Polamalu fan, said of the announcement Tuesday, “I think it would be very difficult for the Steelers, as a team, to not be able to vote for Troy if he ends up being a finalist. Polamalu has been a great player and leader for the Steelers. He continues to give so much to the team, to Pittsburgh, to veterans. This is the first year they are doing this (in the NFL), but if I was on the Steelers team, I would want my teammate to get my vote all the way to the final award.”

During the nationally televised “4th Annual NFL Honors” show on Saturday, January 31, the winner will be announced. That player will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to be given to a charity of that player’s choosing and presented with a trophy representing sportsmanship, integrity and their status as a role model.

Polamalu and his wife, Theodora, have two primary charitable foundations they support: The Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation and the Harry Panos Fund for Veterans. The Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation focuses on humanitarian assistance to American Samoa and Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, among others. The Harry Panos Fund for Veterans was set up to honor Theodora Polamalu’s maternal grandfather, who was a soldier during WWII and has supported American veterans.

“Polamalu sets the tone for the team,” said Amy Brenner, who has a family member that is a wounded veteran in the greater Pittsburgh area. “He is the type of human being that doesn’t have to turn off his humanity when he steps onto the football field. His contributions to service members and veterans is heart-warming and I proudly wear his jersey every week the Steelers play. The Steelers organization couldn’t have chosen a better representative for this award.”

Nominees by team:

WR Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals), RB Steven Jackson (Atlanta Falcons), WR Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens), WR Chris Hogan (Buffalo Bils), CB Terence Newman (Cincinnati Bengals), LB Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers), RB Matt Forté (Chicago Bears), CB Joe Haden (Cleveland Browns), TE Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), DE DeMarcus Ware (Denver Broncos), WR Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), WR Jordy Nelson (Green Bay Packers), DE J.J. Watt (Houston Texans), WR T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts), DT Roy Miller III (Jacksonville Jaguars), QB Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs), DE Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), LB Chad Greenway (Minnesota Vikings), WR/ST Matthew Slater (New England Patriots), WR Marques Colston (New Orleans Saints), LB Jameel McClain (New York Giants), T D’Brickashaw Ferguson (New York Jets), S Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders), LB Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles), S Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers), TE Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers), LB Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers), LB K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks), DE Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams), DT Gerald McCoy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), S George Wilson (Tennessee Titans), S Ryan Clark (Washington Redskins).

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.