KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce is the Chiefs’ finalist for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which is awarded every year to community leaders in pro football.
Kelce, who was drafted by the Chiefs in 2013, is known for big plays and his big personality, but open hearts around the metro have come to love Kelce’s kindness.
“I love this city. I swear,” Kelce shouted from the Union Station stage in February, as the Chiefs celebrated the franchise’s first world championship in 50 years.
Mary Esselman, Operation Breakthrough’s CEO, isn’t surprised that Kelce is drawing the community’s respect for being involved. Esselman said she’s been on-hand countless times, as Kelce has given his time to kids at the non-profit’s headquarters on Troost Avenue.
Esselman said Kelce first came to Operation Breakthrough in 2015, when he read to a group of children. Since then, he’s become a regular.
“I think he just fell in love with the kids,” Esselman said.
Esselman said Kelce’s $500,000 contribution helped sponsor the center’s robotics lab for younger kids, as well as the upcoming Ignition Lab, where high school aged students can polish their STEM skills.
Esselman pointed out that many of those students were previous aging-out of Operation Breakthrough’s system, and that age group represents young people who would soon seek their first real-world jobs.
Numerous photos and video clips show Kelce working with students on school projects, playing games with them and, overall, serving as a role model for kids who come from families in need.
“They see him as a person — obviously, as a role model, but someone who cares about them. I think that matters just as much as the gifts that he’s made. When he’s here, he’s present,” Esselman said on Thursday.
Every year, Kelce’s Walk the Walk Fashion Show helps raise money for Operation Breakthrough through his 87 and Running Foundation. Kids from Operation Breakthrough take part in the runway show which helps families in need get a leg up socially and academically.
“We asked the kids what was the highlight for you — and one of the boys said, ‘He remembers my name.’ When you think of all the kids here, and he’s taking enough time not just to be here, but to get to know all the kids, I think that’s really neat,” Esselman said.
Kelce, who played college football at the University of Cincinnati, grew up outside Cleveland, where 87 and Running is also helping people enduring tough times. The foundation’s executive director sent a statement to FOX4 News on Thursday.
“Travis is a game-changer, and what he does off the field is changing the game for a whole generation of kids who can aspire beyond their situations because of him,” Aaron Eanes said.
Since the pandemic hit, Kelce has even conducted Zoom calls with kids at Operation Breakthrough to check up on them.
Kelce and the Chiefs brought a Super Bowl home to Arrowhead Stadium in February. And on Thursday morning, the Chiefs released a comment from Kelce, in which, he said being nominated for this award makes his football year even more special.
All 32 NFL franchises have nominated their selections for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced during a live broadcast on Saturday, Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl LV.