The Colts on Tuesday named Kenny Moore II the team's nominee for the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, recognizing the cornerback for the impact he continues to make both on and off the field.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is the most prestigious honor an NFL player can receive. The recpient of the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will be announced on Feb. 10, 2022.
The 26-year-old Moore has four interceptions, seven pass break-ups and 77 tackles in 13 games this season as he's continued to prove himself as one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the NFL. He set the tone for the Colts' 31-0 win over the Texans in Week 13 with an interception on the first play of the game and a forced fumble that ended Houston's second possession.
He's established as a tough-as-nails, physical tackler near the line of scrimmage, too, and since the start of the 2017 season Moore is the only cornerback to have at least 10 interceptions (he has 14) and at least 15 tackles for a loss (he has 18).
"He's got a heart of a dang lion out there," linebacker Darius Leonard said.
But Moore's impact extends well beyond all those interceptions and tackles.
Just ask the Garvey family.
Moore befriended "Mighty" Mason Garvey, a then-seven-year-old diagnosed with stage 4 Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma, during the 2018 season. Moore and Mighty Mason spent countless hours together, whether it was playing video games at Riley Hospital for Children, hanging out at the Garveys' home or going to events like Pacers games or a Borussia Dortmund vs. Liverpool soccer match at Notre Dame Stadium.
"(You) do your best to get his mind off of everything that he's going through, just let him feel like a kid and try to get on his level and he can just have fun," Moore said. "And that's really what it was."
Moore didn't become close with Mighty Mason because he wanted any recognition or attention for it, though. General manager Chris Ballard said the Colts didn't learn about Moore's relationship with Mighty Mason until about six months into the pair's friendship.
"He was doing it out the kindness of his heart and because he cared for Mason and the family," Ballard said. "And I think that's when you really truly see who's really authentic in what they're doing. Is it for their own agenda or is it for the agenda of others? I think Kenny's always about the agenda of serving others."
No moment stands out more, though, than when Moore and Mighty Mason took the field together before the Colts played the Denver Broncos on Mason's ninth birthday in 2019. It was a truly special gesture by Moore, who gave Mason not only an unforgettable experience, but an opportunity to leave his problems, his worries and his sickness behind him as he ran on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium alongside his friend.
"I know Kenny is a genuine person and once he made that connection with Mason, it's something he held very close to his heart," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "Just the work he continues to do with their family and just trying to bring awareness to the situation no matter how he can whether it's cleats, whether it's gloves, whether it's shirts or however he can, I just know the bond that he shares with Mason and his family is something that was very special and impacted Kenny even to this day."
Moore considers Mighty Mason a brother and the Garveys as family. Tragically, Mighty Mason passed away in 2020, but Moore's deep bond with the Garvey family continues to this day (Moore, too, covered the costs of Mighty Mason's funeral). On Episode 3 of "Hard Knocks In Season: The Indianapolis Colts," NFL Films took viewers inside the Garvey family Thanksgiving, which Moore attended. In a powerful moment, the Garvey family explains what Moore has meant to them — and Moore responds in kind with how important the Garveys have been to him.
"It's being a person of care and comfort for them and just being a family member," Moore said. "I see them as family, they see me as family. I love them dearly."
This year, Moore collaborated with a local apparel store, The Shop Indy, on a "Mighty" shirt that raised over $6,000 for the Mighty Mason Fund, which supports pediatric palliative care. Moore supported the Mighty Mason Fund for the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative in Week 13 and keeps his friend close to his heart.
Moore also raised $20,000 for the Mighty Mason Fund through a gaming tournament he hosted in 2020.
"I would just say by how he's consistent in every area, not only does he exemplify Walter Payton just about how his work ethic and his production on the field but Kenny's one of those people who genuinely embraces the community that he serves," Franklin said. "He truly impacts this Indianapolis community and his relationship and his bond with Mason is only just the perfect example of how he completely adapted to his environment and tried to give everything of himself to the community."
In addition to his love for the Garvey family and support of the Mighty Mason Fund, Moore supports numerous causes and charitable organizations in Indianapolis and his hometown of Valdosta, Ga.
Moore participated in the inaugural "Tee Off For Tyler" event In June, which raised over $13,000 for the Tyler Trent Foundation supporting cancer research. He's a board member for the A Kid Again Foundation, which provides cost-free and recurring events for children battling life-threatening illnesses.
"I really love that organization — I think the family deals with it just as hard as the kids, to be honest, just the things that I've seen and just having those events to get away from your everyday problems," Moore said. "It's pretty inspiring to see, really, I can make someone that happy."
Moore is a prominent voice in the Irsay family and Colts' "Kicking the Stigma" initiative, which spotlights mental health disorders and works to remove the stigma too often associated with these illnesses. His involvement in sharing his own mental health experiences in videos, PSAs and roundtable discussions was impactful in continuing the fight for mental health awareness.
"When one of the best players on your team is willing to be vulnerable and show some weakness, some vulnerability to the public, it's almost a complete opposite of what athletes are taught from a young age," Ballard said. "And I think it helps the cause."
Moore also has supported Chuckstrong, former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano's Foundation, and in 2019 helped cover the funeral costs of Madi Moore, an Indiana teenager who announced two Colts draft picks in 2019 and passed away after a battle with Leukemia later that year.
Moore also has pledged $12,500 per year to the Kenny Moore II Reach Scholarship, which annually provides $2,500 to five students. He's a weekly participant in Colts Community Tuesdays, too.
"We're not just here to play football," Moore said. "We want to brighten the souls of this community, too."
And in 2017, while Moore was driving home from a community event, the car in front of him ran over a dog. Moore quickly pulled over and invited the dog and its owner, Max, into his car and drove them to a nearby vet hospital. When that vet couldn't perform the surgery necessary on the dog's broken pelvis, Moore drove the dog and Max to another hospital to have the procedure done. The dog survived and Moore has stayed in contact with Max ever since, even attending his wedding in June of 2021.
"I mean, saving the dog, for all of us animal lovers and dog lovers, that story I think touched all of our hearts," head coach Frank Reich said. "And you know when he was doing it, there were no cameras, this was all behind the scenes stuff, all off-camera just from the goodness of his heart."
Moore understands the platform he possesses, but the thing about the Colts' 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee is — he'd be doing all this no matter if he were a star NFL player or not.
"I feel like it's my role," Moore said. "Whether I'm a public figure or if I'm just anyone else in this world, I think that's the role and job that we all have as humans is to help those in need."