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VOL. 133 | NO. 5 | Friday, January 5, 2018

Former Tiger Clinton McDonald Nominee for NFL Man of the Year

By Don Wade

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Clinton McDonald, a former University of Memphis football player, is up for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award after already having been selected as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Man of the Year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, right, battles Carolina Panthers guard Tyler Larsen to get to the ball carrier in an NFL game on Jan. 1, 2017, in Tampa, Florida. (Al Messerschmidt via AP)

He will agree that it’s an honor, but that is not where he places the emphasis. For either he will win the national award or he won’t. The recognition he has received this year as a nominee will, like all things in society today, fade fast.

“It’s a big responsibility, to be honest with you, to carry on the work,” McDonald told The Daily News. “It’s more than just an award.”

A defensive tackle, McDonald joined the Bucs in 2014. His eight-year NFL career includes winning the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks after the 2013 regular season.

But he’s made a larger mark off the field. Following Hurricane Irma, McDonald organized and sponsored food trucks throughout areas of the Tampa Bay community that were without power from the storm and, over the course of two weeks, helped provide more than 15,000 meals to local residents.

Each year, in his hometown of Jacksonville, Arkansas, McDonald co-hosts the annual “Iron Sharpens Iron” week that includes a free football and cheer camp, a golf tournament and bowling tournament that benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Jacksonville. He also is committed to supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities in Arkansas, where he makes visits in the offseason.

For the second consecutive year, McDonald was nominated for the NFL Salute to Service Award, presented by USAA. The military roots in his family run deep. His grandfather served in the Korean War. His father is a former Air Force engineer and Vietnam War veteran. His uncle is a Vietnam veteran and his brother was recently medically discharged from the Air Force.

“The biggest thing was seeing my mother and father give back,” McDonald said of how he was raised.

This year, of course, the NFL has had its share of controversies. From on-field protests during the national anthem that have meant, and been interpreted to mean, different things to different people, to the rising dissatisfaction with the way the game on the field is officiated and rules interpreted.

“The NFL comes under scrutiny like any other business,” McDonald said. “Whether it’s on the field or social issues. I’ve always stood (for the national anthem) because of what the flag means to me. My mother and father being in the military, and uncles and grandfather. The Buffalo Soldiers (regiments of African-American men that began serving during the Civil War), and just all the men and women, not just men of color, that have served.”

For the past two years, McDonald has served as an honorary guest speaker at the General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year Awards at One Buccaneer Place. The event honors the families of active duty military members from each branch of service and recognizes their integrity, courage, commitment and service before self.

Thaddeus Bullard, better known as Titus O’Neil to WWE fans, has worked with McDonald on community events in the Tampa Bay area. Bullard, himself a former football player who won a national championship with the Florida Gators, says whether it’s on-field protests or off-field arrests, media tends to focus on the negative and gloss over the good works of McDonald and his peers across all the major pro sports.

“Just about every player in the NFL has some camp or program where they’re giving back,” said Bullard, who will slip into his Titus O’Neil persona on Monday, Jan. 8, when WWE comes to FedExForum. “I love what Clinton does and the heart behind what he does. He’s not doing it for the glory. He does it to give kids an opportunity to dream bigger.”

McDonald is married and has three children. And for all his good works off the field, a different mentality is required when he punches the clock on the field. So he borrows from his family’s military background to get him in the right frame of mind for when, say, a running back loses the football and it’s his job to try and get it.

“It’s like a switch. Like with a Navy Seal,” he said. “They’re one way walking around Wal-Mart and then flip that switch when the bullets start flying. For the most part, our lives aren’t in danger (in football), but the violence of the sport is such you have to react on a dime. When the ball’s on the ground you gotta think, `we’re getting the ball back.’ Unselfish.”

Just like when he’s working to provide support for homeless veterans, supporting the Wounded Warriors Project, or helping to pack up and distribute food and clothing to the community’s underserved families with Bullard. They are all things McDonald simply has made a habit of doing.

“He’s just a really good dude,” Bullard said.

Up until 10:59 p.m., Central time, on Jan. 7, fans can vote for McDonald in the Walter Payton Man of the Year Charity Challenge using #WPMOYChallenge along with McDonald’s name on social media. The nominee who receives the most hashtag mentions will win an additional $25,000 donation to his charity of choice; the runner-up will receive $10,000 and the third-place winner will receive $5,000.

Three of the 32 nominees for Man of the Year will be selected as finalists, to be announced later this month. The winner will be announced in Minneapolis at “NFL Honors,” a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (CT) on NBC.

This year, $500,000 will be donated in the name of the 2017 winner, with $250,000 donated to the winner’s charity of choice and $250,000 donated in his name to expand Character Playbook across the country. The two other finalists will each receive a $100,000 donation to their charity of choice and a $100,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook, a digital learning experience that uses evidence-based strategies to teach students how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years.

“Playing in the NFL, and life in general, has been a big journey,” McDonald said. “I’ve learned to do my part, be obedient. My life does not end whenever football ends.”

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