Tip of the Hat – Ted Karras

Cincinnati Bengals Center Ted Karras Nominated for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award

Writer / Natalie Gargiulo
Photography Provided

Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras has gone above and beyond touchdowns and tackles, earning a nomination for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his dedication to the Village of Merici (VOM), a local nonprofit that provides a supportive community for adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The award, presented by Nationwide, acknowledges NFL players who excel on the field and demonstrate a passion for creating a lasting positive impact beyond the game in their communities.  Ted Karras

Through the creation of custom hats, Karras has turned a humble initiative into a powerful force, generating substantial financial support to the special cause in his hometown.

At the center of Karras’ contributions is his initiative, The Cincy Hat. Launched in November 2022, the hat captured the spirit of the Bengals’ fan base and he raised over $1 million in sales within a year. More than $300,000 of the proceeds were donated to the VOM.

“We are able to dream a little bigger now because of Ted’s efforts,” says VOM Director of Development Karyl Davis. “It’s amazing to realize we will be able to serve more people in the coming years because of this.”

Karras has been a supporter of the VOM since entering the NFL in 2016. His personal commitment is shown through his $100,000 matching of donations, but most of all, his close relationship with the residents of Merici and the mission they share.

“Ted has fostered strong connections with the residents in our Lawrence community,” Davis says. “For years he’s been coming to game night, personally knowing each resident by name. He’s genuinely a friend to all. Often when Ted visits, there are no cameras. He’s totally embraced the Merici family’s mission and his impact has been truly transformative.”Ted Karras

This sustained effort has significantly contributed to the VOM mission, allowing them to expand the number of adults they serve by 62% in the past 12 months.

“When you buy a hat or any of the gear, that’s a direct contribution to providing more living units and a variety of services and coaching at VOM,” Karras says. “You can never take being in the NFL for granted, and to be able to harness some of that attention for something good has been amazing.”

Karras’s nomination highlights how profound the impact of genuine compassion and innovative philanthropy can be on both the game and communities.

Matt Renie, one of Karras’s middle school friends, has been running the hat project. “The nomination is a byproduct of how everything evolved, and Ted’s genuine dedication to the project and Merici,” he says. “The entire community of Cincinnati deserves so much of the praise as well, with over 11,000 people having bought our hats. It’s been a cool thing to see so many people rally around something.”

The surprise nomination unfolded when Karras, unaware of the honor, visited Merici to spend time with the residents and host game night before heading off to the Super Bowl.

“The residents got to be the first ones to tell Ted he was a nominee, which was really, really special,” Davis says. “It was a total secret and Ted had no idea what was coming.”

The Bengals sent a film crew to capture the news being revealed, marking a truly touching moment for Karras.

“The Village of Merici is such a family and community built on love, caring and service,” Karras says. “To be a small part of it and to get honored by helping them is one of the biggest moments of my life, and a deep honor.”

Ted KarrasDuring the week leading up to Super Bowl LVIII, the winner will be announced at the NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally on CBS February 8. Each nominee including Karras will receive up to a $55,000 donation. The winner will be granted a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice.

Fans can cast their votes on social media platforms using #WPMOYChallenge along with the nominee’s name, or by voting directly at nfl.com/honors/man-of-the-year.

The nominee with the most collective mentions and votes will receive an additional $35,000 donation from Nationwide, demonstrating the power of community involvement.

“Ted has been our Merici Man of the Year,” Davis says. “He’s done so much for our organization and as a friend. More than anything, Ted spends time with the people we support and that means so much to everyone.”

To watch the nomination video “It takes a Village,” visit the Cincinnati Bengals Youtube channel.

Check out villageofmerici.org to learn more and vote for Ted Karras.

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