Bradley Bozeman's extraordinary impact on nation's youth drives second Man of the Year nomination

It’s a rare occasion when an offensive lineman gets a chance to proudly talk about his stats, but Bradley Bozeman’s charitable efforts off the field have earned him that right.

“We just hit our 3 millionth-meal mark,” Bozeman said in a phone interview earlier in December about the impact of the Bradley & Nikki Bozeman Foundation. “We’ve talked to over 100,000 students from Maryland to California and back. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Those extraordinary numbers are partly why Bozeman is the Baltimore Ravens’ nominee for the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an honor he’s received from the team for the second consecutive season.

Bozeman established the Bradley & Nikki Bozeman Foundation in 2018, the same year he was drafted in the sixth round by the Ravens. The non-profit is committed to strengthening communities through a variety of initiatives including youth engagement, food security and education equality.

“I think it just speaks volumes to the amount of work that is going into it,” Bozeman said about being nominated again. “The amount of preparation and time and effort that’s gone into this foundation, to be able to represent Baltimore, the Ravens, this community, this foundation, my family, it’s huge. It’s amazing. I’m so blessed to be able to have that.”

The initial goal of the foundation was to raise awareness for the life experience Bozeman had as a young kid in Roanoke, Alabama. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Ravens center was once a short, chubby outcast who struggled with the day-to-day of being bullied. Bozeman, who started speaking on the topic while at the University of Alabama, aimed to become the voice he once needed.

“It’s such a huge issue,” Bozeman explained. “To be able to talk to these kids to give them tools, to know that they’re special, to know that they’re here for a reason and to not let anyone else deter that is huge. It’s something that I wish I would’ve had someone come to talk to me and tell me that [when] I was a kid.

“It’s been such a great experience and just so eye-opening, to be honest. I got chills on the back of my neck right now. It’s such a blessing to be able to go in and talk to these kids, give them a voice, give them the courage and the self-respect that they deserve.”

Along with his wife Nikki, whom Bradley calls the MVP of their foundation, Bozeman set out on a six-week, 5,000-mile anti-bullying campaign across the country in 2020. The trip came off the heels of working closely with Maryland state delegates who authored the Grace’s Law 2.0 legislation reform to combat cyberbullying. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cut that trip just short of its completion, but Bozeman’s organization quickly pivoted to launch a food distribution program in the Baltimore area.

In 2021, that endeavor expanded into a collaborative initiative called the SYNC Snack Program, which provides meaningful food and academic support to Baltimore’s disadvantaged communities. They also launched an online library of anti-bullying, diversity and inclusion video messaging, a project that was carried out with the help of the Ravens organization, which provided robots so the Bozemans can be in schools virtually.

Future goals for the Bradley & Nikki Bozeman Foundation include an expansion of the SYNC Snack Program across the United States and another cross-country trip for their anti-bullying campaign. Serving as the Ravens’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award only hastens that process, and Bozeman very well knows how much further the honor can take his foundation.

Calais Campbell, a teammate who received the honor in 2019 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has been an open book for Bozeman over the past two years in Baltimore, and the knowledge gained has furthered Bozeman’s effort into recognition from the City of Baltimore in 2021.

“He’s very philanthropic,” Bozeman said of Campbell. “We’ve talked about different things, partnering up on different things, how to secure grants — things like that. He said with the Walter Payton Man of the Year, it really opened up [opportunities] for him, and we’re hoping it does the same thing for us. We’re just very blessed to be in this situation, and Calais has been a great help for me personally.”

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Campbell’s influence on Bozeman aligns stars that go even deeper within the Ravens organization. The only Ravens player to win the Walter Payton Man of the Year award is Matt Birk back in 2011 — another sixth-round center who also happened to wear No. 77 (Bozeman’s number) in the purple and black.

A decade later, Bozeman hopes to follow in those same footsteps throughout his NFL career and beyond in order to keep growing his altruistic statistics.

“I see our foundation continuing until the end,” Bozeman said. “Continue to give back, continue to help in any way that we can even after football. We’ve been given such an amazing platform, and I definitely want to use that to its total ability.”

The winner of the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will be selected from a field of 32 nominees, one from each team, and announced at the 11th Annual NFL Honors, broadcast live on ABC on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m. ET, and simulcast on ESPN+ and NFL Network.

Follow Michael Baca on Twitter.

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