The Carolina Panthers didn’t have much to get excited about this season. After a Super Bowl appearance in early 2016 and lofty expectations coming into this year, they finished with a disappointing record of 6-10. Despite all of the disappointments, Panthers fans have never given up on their team. That proved to be true in a recent social media challenge that went viral in just 24 hours.
Each year, a team nominates one player to represent them as a candidate for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. This year, the Panthers nominated Greg Olsen for the second consecutive season. While the winner of the actual award will not be announced until February 4th, the NFL wanted to incorporate fan support, so a charity challenge was created in 2015. Fans have been encouraged over the course of four weeks to post on social media using their favorite player’s hashtag. The nominee with the most mentions wins a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice, courtesy of Nationwide Insurance. This year, Olsen’s hashtag was #OlsenWPMOYChallenge.
The Panthers chose to nominate Olsen particularly because of his involvement with charity work. In 2009, Olsen and his family created Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation – which originally raised money for breast cancer research because of his own mother’s diagnosis. In 2012, Olsen’s son T.J. was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which is a rare birth defect that affects blood flow through the heart. After T.J.’s diagnosis, The HEARTest Yard Fund was created under the Receptions for Research umbrella to assist families as they transition into their new lives as parents of children with congenital heart disease in coordination with Levine Children’s Hospital. The foundation has donated $520,000 to six hospitals and foundations since 2009, according to the Carolina Panthers.
At 10 pm on January 7th, Olsen was in 2nd place in the challenge behind San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith, with 371,468 mentions. After tweets from William Shatner, most known for his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Cam Newton, the hashtag started going viral. The Charlotte Hornets, Western Carolina University, and news organizations across the Carolinas started using the hashtag, and Olsen now sits at first place with over 1 million mentions on social media. He leads Torrey Smith by over 400,000 mentions.
Along with the $25,000 donation to Olsen’s foundation, Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera promised to donate $8,888.88, in honor of Olsen’s jersey number 88, to Receptions for Research and Levine Children’s Hospital once the social media mentions reached 1 million. Fox News Anchor Bret Baier has promised to donate $5,000 to Olsen’s charity, as well.
Olsen thanked his fans on all of his social media platforms for their support and has promised to donate $25,000 of his own money to his charity.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Charity Challenge ends on January 8 at 11:59 pm.