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Logan Ryan named Giants nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Logan Ryan grew up in South Jersey, his father worked in law enforcement and his time was spent playing various sports with his older brother, Jordan. Like all headstrong youngsters, Ryan harbored big dreams. But they had nothing to do with wearing a badge or throwing a football.

"I don't tell a lot of people this, but when I was young, I wanted to be an inventor," Ryan said. "That's what I said when I was little. I watched a lot of Dexter's Laboratory. I wanted a white coat. I don't know if that was a scientist, but I really didn't know what an inventor was. Really, I think it was because I wanted my ideas to be heard."

Ryan is now 30 and he has yet to invent eyeglasses that include mini-televisions, a mattress with a built-in alarm clock or even a longer-lasting chewing gum.

But his goal of being heard is a big success. Ryan was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots and is now in his second season as a standout for the Giants. Off the field, he is involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors that aid causes as diverse as supporting pets and police officers. Ryan is relentless in his zeal to help people and animals, his hometown or anyone who needs their fortunes or spirits lifted.

His endeavors include Ryan's Monthly Rescue and Ryan's Animal Rescue Foundation (RARF); Ryan Alternative Solutions Training (RAST); a collaboration with CARE (Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity); joining forces with the Covenant House in Newark to support homeless youth through education, employment and financial literacy; frequently donating to animal shelters; and providing Thanksgiving meals and pet supplies to residents of Camden, N.J.

That makes Ryan an easy choice as the Giants' nominee for the 2021 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Presented by Nationwide, the Man of the Year Award is named for former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who died in 1999. The award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.

Each of the 32 teams has a Man of the Year who is eligible to win the league award. Last year, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson received the award. In 2016, Giants quarterback Eli Manning was named a co-winner – with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald - of the Man of the Year Award. Manning is the only Giants player to receive the award in its 51-year history.

The Giants' nominee last year was defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings.

"It's amazing," Ryan said. "I knew when I came into this league that I wanted to give back, and that was always very important to me. It took time to figure out what my causes were going to be. It took time to figure out what was close to my heart, who to help, and how to help. It came organically. I felt like I've been doing good work for years. To be recognized, it's all about the timing and it's amazing. This is a great organization. It means a lot to be nominated by this organization, it's where I'm from, my hometown. It can't get any better."

Like everything Ryan does, the excitement regarding his nomination is a family affair.

"I think it's something that he has deserved for a couple of years," said his wife, Ashley. "He does a ton of stuff in the community, and it's a high honor. I think he was built for it. It's the right award for him."

"Logan is always trying to do something extra," said his father, Lester. "He's always asking me questions about how he should approach things. I tell him it's all about doing the right thing and always trying to help people that can't help themselves. He's all about that, so I'm very proud of him getting this honor."

Ryan was raised in Berlin, N.J., which is much closer to Philadelphia than MetLife Stadium. But as a fierce supporter of New Jersey and a former player at Rutgers, he considers the state one big neighborhood. Ryan was immersed in the community when he played for the Patriots and the Tennessee Titans, but helping people and pets in the Garden State elicits stronger feelings.

"It just means more," he said. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't want to say one place is more important than the other. I loved my time everywhere I went. I feel like my career has different chapters, and I grew throughout those chapters. But, where I'm at and hope to end at, this chapter, it means more to come back home. It's a real coming home story for me."

The Ryan boys were good students who were constantly playing one game or another. During his youth, Ryan set out on the path that would lead hm to become perhaps the NFL's foremost animal advocate.

"We always had a dog growing up," Ryan said. "We had a golden retriever that we rescued in South Jersey. Her name was Amber for her color. She passed away when I was in high school, and I had her since I was four or five years old. It was heartbreaking because that pet becomes part of your family."

Logan and Ashley Ryan first joined forces at Rutgers.

"She was a stud shortstop on a full ride, and I was riding the bench as a cornerback," Ryan said. "She took a flier on me. We had just true love from the start.

So, who's the superior athlete?

"Oh, that's tricky," Ashley said. "In my prime, I'm going to take that one."

When they weren't competing in their respective sports, Logan and Ryan were helping others wherever they could.

"We did a ton of (community) stuff at Rutgers," Logan said. "We'd go to the hospitals. (Rutgers coach) Greg Schiano did a great job in the community, similar to here, of getting the players out and being part of the community, especially with the kids."

The Ryans extended their good works to animals.

Ashley is, "the biggest animal lover in the world," Ryan said.

After leaving Rutgers, the couple moved to Massachusetts. Logan was the Patriots' 2013 third-round draft choice. Ashley later volunteered at the Providence Animal Rescue League in Rhode Island.

"This had to be in 2015," she said. "I went for my interview, and I was Miss Independent. I refused to use my boyfriend's name for any gain. I was just in there and got the job. I was cleaning kennels, cleaning litter boxes, and doing the grunt work at the animal shelter. I'm glad I did it that way, because it gave me the experience."

Logan began visiting Ashley for lunch at the shelter on Tuesdays, his day off during the season. He soon realized the same animals were in the shelter week after week, which prompted him to found Ryan's Monthly Rescue.

"It just dawned on me, 'Why don't I feature them on my Instagram?'" Ryan said. "I started featuring one pet a month, and I called it the Ryan's Monthly Rescue. I had tremendous success and shelters in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut were calling us to drive down there on Tuesday and feature their animals. It turned into a big deal and slowly but surely, in a couple years, the Ryan's Monthly Rescue formed into RARF, a 51c3 nonprofit."

"Logan is the idea person in the family," Ashley said. "He's the out-of-the-box thinker. He woke up one day and was like, 'I have an idea. I know how I can be involved.' From that, Ryan's Monthly Rescue was born. We started choosing a dog each month to take a photo with Logan and promote that dog and that shelter to try to get these longer-term shelter rescue animals adopted and show them off to a wider audience. A lot of times in rescue, they're promoting to the same circles of animal loving people. He had this whole different following on social media with his football career, so it worked out really well."

On April 7, 2017, Logan and Ashley were married in St. Lucia. It proved to be a milestone day not just for them, but for thousands of animals. And it was because Ashley wanted to do a "trash the dress" photo shoot in the town of Soufriere.

"We left our beautiful resort to walk through the town and we started seeing some suffering, some poverty," Ryan said. "We saw a lot of stray animals, and the photographer who was doing our photoshoot said, 'Don't pet the dog or give them any food because the stray dogs aren't going to let us work.' He said that they were city dogs, and nobody owns them. As he was saying that, my wife was on a knee getting licked in the face by the dog. The dog follows us for the rest of the shoot, and he takes a picture of the dog. We make a large donation to their animal shelter in Saint Lucia, Help Animal Welfare, and I got all my NFL friends to make a donation as well. We end up raising a lot of money for the animal shelter when I was there.

"We fly back home and the photographer posted that photo and said this NFL player came to our country and his wife and him raised tens of thousands of dollars. That dog (in the picture) was named Logan in my honor. Our donations paid for over 100 animals to get spayed and neutered to get off the street. That photo went viral, and it got picked up by every news outlet in the country. I would say it was a pretty buzzing story, and people started contacting us to donate to us or donate to Saint Lucia. They said, 'You guys are awesome, we saw your story. How do we help?'"

The day they arrived home from their honeymoon, Ryan started the Ryan Animal Rescue Foundation. After learning how to properly run a foundation, RARF began to take off.

"We provide grants to animal shelters," Ryan said. "We provided a 'Train the Trainer' grant, where I took the best animal trainer I've ever met and flew her to different shelters to train their trainers. If we're able to train their trainers, the shelters will run more efficiently and better, and that can affect hundreds of thousands of dogs a year, as opposed to one at a time. As COVID hit and this pandemic struck, we worked more on the people and their relationship with their pets.

"The biggest thing I learned working with animals is it transcends jersey color. I got fans from New England. I got fans from Tennessee. I got fans from Pittsburgh. I got fans from San Francisco. Some just don't watch a lot of football, but they love their animals. I love my animal people. People that love animals have a good heart, so those are people I roll with."

Ryan also rolls with law enforcement personnel, thanks to his close relationship with his dad.

"I was an investigator for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which is the equivalent to the district attorney offices in most states," Lester Ryan said. "We weren't like police officers that drove around in patrol cars. We were basically in suits. We did have arresting powers and policing powers. We enforced the laws of New Jersey. We oversaw 37 other police departments or cities. Any sort of crimes that happened in those particular municipalities, we would be charged with taking it to court with our attorneys. Our officers split into prosecutors or assistant prosecutors and investigators. We work cases together, homicides, narcotics, domestic violence, terrorism, arson, and child abuse. Any case that you can think of, I've investigated."

Lester Ryan retired from the prosecutor's office in 2014 but has continued his work at the police academy.

"I've been teaching recruits, juvenile detention recruits and correctional recruits, for over 35 years," he said.

When George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis by police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, Logan had the same visceral reaction as millions of others. But to him, it was a call to action.

"It was inhumane," Ryan said. "It was just gruesome, and it was just too much. It was an 'enough is enough' type of scenario. My story is very unique, where my dad is my hero, my role model, and is also a police officer. We both felt that something was off, and something needed to be done there, so my story was to be the voice."

His response was to found Ryan Alternative Solutions Training.

"My dad was retired, and I wanted to get him back in there," Ryan said. "I felt like there was a growing divide between community and policing, and that needed to go the other way. There's a lot of good police officers that need to have their stories told. We need to better train the police that we currently have, or kind of reform the training. We started a police training company in order to do a better job of that. Our goal is to have a better relationship between people and the police. The things that we focus on are de-escalation techniques, minimum force techniques, and empathy. There needs to be more empathy between the police and the community and more empathy for the community and police because it's a tough job. We're trying to bring that bridge together with my platform as a black man in this country, as a National Football League player, and also the son of a police officer."

Lester Ryan was fully supportive.

"It's all about the lack of training," he said. "Officers are given a certain number of months at the academy, but once they leave, there's nothing saying you must go back for X number of trainings. I think that's where it falls short. Officers are working and sometimes they're not confident in what they're doing when it comes to physical restraint of people. I think they rely too much on deadly force at times, even though it's not a major issue in this country.

"I've got a team of professionals that I trust, who know my methods, have trained with me at the police department, and have worked with me at the prosecutor's office. They're all certified trainers in de-escalation techniques, hostage negotiation stuff, and hand-to-hand stuff, in terms of defensive tactics. We did a pilot program in the town that Logan grew up in. We had about 12 agencies there to show them exactly what can be done to make sure police officers are well trained, and how to communicate better with the community. Our plan is to go to various states and cities, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Arizona, or wherever, and help teach this new dynamic of communication. De-escalation is our foundation and how to teach officers not to hurt people when they arrest anyone."

Check out must-see photos of Giants defensive back Logan Ryan's time with the Giants.

Logan and Ashley Ryan have one more chapter they want to share, one that many other couples would certainly keep private.

After a home Monday night game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 2, 2020, Logan received a call from Ashley, who was in Florida, where they own a home, to vote. Ashley had extreme stomach pain but was inclined to try to sleep it off. Logan spoke to Giants assistant athletic trainer Justin Maher, who insisted Ashley go to the hospital. The directive might have saved her life.

Doctors discovered an ectopic pregnancy, where the egg was in the wrong place in her fallopian tube. They said it was about to burst and she ended up going into emergency surgery. Ashley recovered, but the Ryans had to confront the pain of a miscarriage. They chose to do it out in the open.

"That's how Logan and I both operate," Ashley said. "Why I said he's so great for this type of award is that he's always looking for ways to help people. That seems like his calling, and he's very good at it. In that situation, as traumatic, difficult, and painful as it was, our initial motivation, the first reason we ever shared that is out of gratitude because, honestly, I was self-diagnosing on WebMD, and I didn't think it was that serious. Justin Maher convinced me to go to the hospital and had he not done that, had he not been there at 1 a.m. when I needed help, I could have ended up a lot worse. That's why Logan mentioned it in the first place.

"Beyond that, we got an overwhelming amount of not only support, but people who said, 'Hey, I went through the same thing and a lot of people don't feel comfortable sharing it. They feel like it's maybe shameful or hard to talk about.' It opened that line of communication and allowed people to heal through the same things and feel heard and feel seen because we went through something like that."

Logan took a bit boarder view.

"One thing I want to let everyone know is that I'm so much more normal than you would think," Ryan said. "As an NFL player, you can be whatever life you want it to be, and I want to be very normal. I'm as normal a person as I could be. I'm a husband, and I'm a father. We went through a lost baby, and it's stress that we still haven't gotten over. It's something that lives with you. It's something that sticks with you. The reason why we did share is, I wish I could say it was courageous and heroic enough to let everyone know it's okay, but it was to shine light on Justin Maher, who ended up saving my wife's life."

So, as much as they can be, the Ryans are back to normal. Logan and Ashley live about 20 minutes from MetLife Stadium with their daughter Avery (6) and son Otto (3). And, of course, their pets.

"At any point we'll have between four, to 10, to 12 animals in our house," Ashley said.

"The Ryan family pet situation right now is pretty simple," Logan said. "We have two adults. We have two kids. We have two dogs, Leonardo and Nala. Leonardo is named after the Ninja Turtle. He's a pitbull. Nala is named from the Lion King. She's a puggle, a pug-beagle mix. We have two hairless rats (Ziggy and Rhino). They're my wife's pets. They're honestly awesome pets. They're more active and more friendly than hamsters and guinea pigs. They have no hair."

Maybe Logan could invent some for them.

Check out must-see photos of Giants defensive back Logan Ryan's time with the Giants.