Long before Andrew Whitworth made it to the National Football League, he knew he wanted to help others.
When he was a kid, he volunteered to bag groceries for customers at the local food store. As he grew older, he began to realize that people didn't have the same opportunities in life that he enjoyed.
"When I took a step in my career, my life, when I felt like I had something more, that gave me the opportunity to give something back," said Whitworth, now 39 and an offensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams.
Whitworth's efforts to make a difference have not gone unnoticed.
The NFL veteran has been nominated for the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The award recognizes an NFL player for his outstanding community service. The winner will be announced Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl.
His contributions have been numerous, including a recent $50,000 donation, along with his wife, to a Black-owned small business in Inglewood, California, that was struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. He also made a $250,000 donation to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
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Yet perhaps most notable is Whitworth's focus on addressing education inequities in underserved communities. To that end, he has funded STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) labs in two Los Angeles-area schools. He has plans to build more in different schools in the city.
"One of the things we wanted to do is create some opportunities for kids to have alternative learning and chances to develop themselves in a place where they can really get to create and develop knowledge," Whitworth said.
There has long been inequality in education and the coronavirus pandemic has made it worse. Those living in America's poorest 20% of neighborhoods will experience the most long-lasting and negative effects of pandemic-induced school closures, a recent Yale study found.
In those communities, ninth graders will see a 25% decrease in their post-schooling earning potential, even if their remaining high school years return to normal. In comparison, there are no substantial losses for those from the richest 20% of U.S. neighborhoods, according to the study.
In addition to addressing that gap, Whitworth hopes his STEAM labs send a positive message to its students.
"I hope they feel like the opportunity for them to be whatever it is they want to be, and achieve whatever they want to, is right in front of them," he said.
As for the future, Whitworth is hoping to continue working to find ways to level the playing field for those in underserved communities.
"We want to find the next thing we can do to help those kids to learn," he said.
"Teach them to find something that they love and develop a passion."
TUNE IN: Andrew Whitworth will be on "Halftime Report" on Thursday at 12 p.m. ET.
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