TEMPE, Ariz. — Jay Feely is a good kicker, having made 22-of-24 field goal attempts this season, while also converting on each of his 27 extra point opportunities.
He’s also a good person.
Wednesday, it was announced that Feely was the Arizona Cardinals’ Walter Payton Man of the Year, an award that is given to 32 players (one from each NFL team) annually to recognize off-the-field community service along with playing excellence.
“It’s an honor,” Feely said. “Walter Payton was a hero of mine growing up. I actually had a picture on my wall growing up that said ‘Jay, life and athletics require a total effort for success,’ and it was signed by Walter Payton.
“So not only from the Cardinals, but also from Walter Payton, it’s truly an honor.”
As part of Feely winning the honor, the NFL will donate $1,000 to a charity of his choice, and he is now a finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced prior to Super Bowl XLVIII, and will receive a $25,000 charitable donation from NFL Charities.
Feely was presented with a trophy by team president Michael Bidwill following Thursday’s practice.
“Jay does a lot of great work in the community, not only here in the Valley but back in Michigan and Florida,” Bidwill said. “Has even done it internationally, in Haiti.”
Feely, who is in his fourth season with the Cardinals, works with the Phoenix Ronald McDonald House and is a yearly participant at the team’s “Feed the Hungry” program, which celebrates Thanksgiving at the Phoenix Rescue Mission. This year, the 37-year-old was given the “Game Changer” award for his years of service and dedication.
A supporter of the House of Refuge as well, it is Feely’s multiple trips to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake that has made a profound impact on the player and his family.
Feely said his brother was the first of his family to go to Haiti, and after he returned and said what was going on, Jay couldn’t help but want to help. Making a total of three trips, Feely has worked with The Grove Church, President Bill Clinton and Mission Hope, helping the latter two come together to help the area.
“When you go down there and you see kids everywhere without families and you see people without homes it gives you a different perspective,” he said. “And that’s why I wanted to bring my family down there, bring my two oldest kids down there, for them to see it and be a part of it.”
Feely said it was important to see the people work and appreciate having food, a bed and a roof over one’s head.
He pointed to a specific child who brought him to the home Feely’s group built him and his family.
“We walked in and they were so proud of their home,” Feely said. “I walked into one bedroom and he had his four sisters sleeping in there and there were two cots, and they took turns. Two slept on the cement floor and two slept on the cot, and each night they switched.
“They were so grateful to be able to have a roof and a floor to sleep on, and you talk to our kids, if they had to sleep on a cement floor how angry and upset and mad they’d be, and here these kids were grateful that they had a floor to sleep on and a roof to sleep under.”
Along with his family, Feely also created the Feely Family Foundation, which focuses on the protection, education and rehabilitation of children. That, along with everything else he has done, is doing and will do in the future, is something Feely believes is his responsibility as an athlete.
“The biggest advantage you have as a professional athlete is the opportunity you have to give back,” he said. “And people look to you to be a leader, but they also look to you in a certain way just because you’re an athlete, and I think you can use that to your advantage to have a great impact on people.”