Christian Kirksey named Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year

Kirksey says “I just want to be the type of person people can look up to"

Daryl Ruiter
December 06, 2018 - 4:14 pm

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Christian Kirksey was named the Browns Walter Payton Man of the Year Thursday.

The linebacker will be the team's nominee for the NFL award, which will be anounced in February.

Kirksey learned of the nomination earlier this week from owner Dee Haslam.

“Since Christian was drafted in 2014, he has been an incredible influence and provided a positive energy for our team and building, as well as throughout the entire Cleveland community,” Haslam said. “It is special to see how he has grown on and off the field during his time with the Browns as he has clearly become an exceptional role model for his teammates, our city and most importantly, the youth he inspires.” 

Dee and Jimmy Haslam, as well as Executive Vice President J.W. Johnson, will present the award to Kirksey prior to Sunday’s game against Carolina at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“High character and putting others before yourself are attributes we look for in the individuals that make up the Cleveland Browns,” general manager John Dorsey said. “There is no man that has played in this league that exemplifies those qualities more than Walter Payton, and Christian should be very proud of the work he does off the field that makes him so deserving of this most prestigious honor.”

Kirksey, whose “What is your Why?” mantra became famous during HBO’s Hard Knocks, launched the Kirkoland Foundation this past spring with a focus on helping kids in need – both in Cleveland as well as his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

“I’m honored,” Kirksey said Thursday. “I try and do as much as I can I the community, try to be a positive role model, influence a lot of people. I’m just happy that the Cleveland Browns organization nominated me and how I’m viewed by my peers definitely humbles me and I just want to continue to do good things.”

Kirksey has also been one of the primary leaders and voices in social justice initiatives in Northeast Ohio, including participation in the Browns’ neighborhood unity and equality summits, ride-alongs with Cleveland Police. He’s also gotten involved with Towards Employment, a local organization that serves individuals who are on their path to reentry following incarceration.

“I just want to be the type of person people can look up to and the type of person that can relate to a lot of people,” Kirksey said. “A lot of people see football players and really don’t understand our personality or really get a chance to know each person so I kinda want to be that guy that no matter how big time I get or all the accomplishments, I’m still humble.”

Kirksey, voted a team captain for the 2018 season, was originally drafted by the Browns in the third round – No. 71 overall – of the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s appeared in 71 games with 52 starts where he has racked up 452 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, 17 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

“This is where I started my career, which is my dream to play football and Cleveland was the team to give me an opportunity, so I have an attachment to it,” Kirksey said. “Being here for five years and being one of the longest [tenured] Browns on the team I take pride in that and I just want to give back.”

Kirksey studied Payton when he was younger with dreams of one day emulating the Hall of Famer.

“I know he was a hell of a running back,” Kirksey said. “I watched his highlights, Barry Sanders, a lot of those highlights because I wanted to be a running back. Then my coach came to me with the idea of making me a linebacker, so I think it worked.”