KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The NFL made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, but Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson didn’t know until texts messages and tweets throughout the evening alerted him something was up.
It took a congratulatory text message from Johnson’s mother, who found out from friends, to make the 11th-year pro fully realize what the buzz was about.
Johnson is one of the 32 players nominated for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, which honors NFL players who “best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition,” as announced by the NFL.
“I didn’t even know until she hit me up about it, so that was pretty cool,” Johnson said of receiving notification from his mother. “A couple of people told her about it, and I definitely told her thank you for everything she’s done for me.”
The award was created in 2014 in honor of the late Art Rooney, Sr., a Pro Football Hall of Famer who founded the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community consisting of Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler will select eight finalists (four from each conference) among the 32 nominees.
Current NFL players will then determine the winner of the NFL Sportsmanship Award after the finalists are listed on the Pro Bowl ballot when players vote on Dec. 18. Each team’s players will submit a consensus vote of its choice for the winner. A team, however, can’t vote for its own player.
Nevertheless, Johnson is honored to be considered no matter what happens during the voting process.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Johnson said with a wide smile. “It’s one of these things where the hard work on and off the field, what kind of character you are, the way you were raised, all that stuff comes into play when you get that award.”
His teammates also couldn’t be happier to know Johnson’s name is among the list of 32 nominees.
“D.J. is highly worthy of the award,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “Everything about him, he’s one heck of a player on the field, but he’s even more off the field. I think that award shows the entire persona of who D.J. really is. Off the field, he’s every bit as he is on the field as a Pro Bowl player, he’s a Pro Bowl person off the field.”
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe agreed.
“It’s him,” Poe said. “It’s who he is, it’s who he personifies, so I’m not shocked at all.”
The winner of the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award is scheduled to be announced during the nationally televised “5th Annual NFL Honors” show on Feb. 6, 2016, the night before Super Bowl 50.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the inaugural award in 2014.
The winner will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice, according to the NFL news release. The winner also receives a trophy that “represents the important role that sportsmanship plays in the game and how NFL players that demonstrate integrity and honor on the field serve as role models for players at all levels,” according to the news release.
Johnson said it would mean a lot to him if he received the award.
“I take a lot of pride doing the right things on and off the field,” Johnson said. “And, man, that just speaks volumes, especially for this team.”
He also wants to win the award not for himself, but for his teammates.
“I got a lot of great guys around me, it makes it easy to fit in a bunch of good character guys that I have on the team,” Johnson said. “I want to win it, but I’m more so focused on I want it on my team. The guys in this locker room think a lot about me. A lot of guys outside the locker room don’t know me, but to win it for the Chiefs, that’s big.”