DETROIT (WXYZ) — We want to revisit a moment that touched the hearts and minds of a lot of people watching the NFL's players' awards for 2022.
This year's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award went to a teammate of Matthew Stafford, Andrew Whitworth of the Los Angeles Rams.
When Whitworth made his acceptance speech — heard by millions across America — what stood out most was him mentioning a Detroit Lions player, NFL rookie Derrick Barnes, who says he would not have made it to the league had “Big Whit,” as he calls him, not been in his life.
It was emotional, memorable and a tearjerker. There are a lot of adjectives that could describe the end of the speech by Whitworth for winning the Man of the Year award, but he took a moment to mention Barnes.
“In the speech, he talked about you playing for the Detroit Lions and then running toward him, what made you do that? WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford asked.
“It was mind-blowing. You could see the expression on his face,” Barnes said.
Barnes told Big Whit about a life-changing meeting they had years ago.
“(I said) 'Hey, I'm going to make you feel old. You know you used to come to my Boys and Girls Club and help me with homework. You are a big inspiration,'” Barnes recalled.
Barnes grew up in the small town of Covington, Kentucky, a place a lot of kids in the city of Detroit can relate to.
“What kind of community did you grow up in in Kentucky,” Clifford asked.
“I was surrounded by marijuana. I was surrounded by violence, gun violence in my community. Growing up, I was living in the projects,” Barnes responded.
Barnes' only safe haven to escape after school was the Boys and Girls Club. That's where he would connect with Big Whit on a regular basis.
“Growing up in Kentucky, what kind of conversation did you have with Andrew in the Boys and Girls Club?” Clifford asked.
“(Whitworth said), 'Block out all the distractions and keep going even when you can't go anymore,'” Barnes said. “He always told me how important school was, school gets you a long way.”
Barnes admits most kids he grew up with don't make it out of the projects, but he says for him, Big Whit's words of wisdom made his journey through rough patches a little easier to navigate.
“I think the biggest thing for me was to find a way out, beat the odds,” Barnes said. “Be that positive role model in my community show people there are different ways because you don't hear about a kid from Covington going to the NFL.”
Now, Barnes is hoping here in Detroit, a place most people prejudge in the worst kind of way, he can touch a life the same way Whitworth made an impact on his life.
“I want to be able to save a kid. I want to be on that stage one day and share what I did for a little kid,” Barnes said.
As far as that speech goes, Barnes says, “It was a great moment for me, one of the best moments of my life, I can't thank him enough.”