EASTRUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley would have had a rewarding, fantastic and momentous 2022 even if he had never touched a football.
In September, he celebrated the birth of his second child and first son with longtime girlfriend Anna Congdon. Saquon, Jr. – whom they call S.J. – joins four-year-old sister Jada.
"Beautiful baby," Barkley said. "He lights up the room. Amazing smile. Jada is being an amazing big sister. Anna, obviously, an amazing mom. We've got a beautiful little family."
One of Barkley's springtime highlights was receiving his undergraduate degree in communications from Penn State, four years after leaving the school as the second overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. He said the accomplishment "feels amazing."
At about the same time, Barkley was presented with the Hometown Hero Award for his charitable contributions at the United Way of New York City's 2022 Gridiron Gala, helping the vital non-profit raise a remarkable $2.4 million for children and families in New York City.
And, of course, Barkley continues to work his magic in uniform. After two seasons interrupted by injuries and a third (2020) cut to five quarters because of a torn ACL, Barkley continues to prove he is one of the best running backs in the NFL and in Giants history.
Through 12 games, he leads the 7-4-1 Giants in rushing (1,055 yards), receptions (40) and touchdowns (eight). In the Giants' 20-20 tie Sunday with the Washington Commanders, Barkley became the fourth player in Giants history with at least three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, joining Tiki Barber (six), Rodney Hampton (five) and Joe Morris (three).
Barkley added another seminal distinction to his remarkable year when he was named the Giants' nominee for the 2022 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 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, Los Angeles Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth was the recipient. He retired after the Rams won Super Bowl LVI. 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 52-year history.
"Being the recipient for the New York Giants and getting honored is truly amazing," Barkley said. "It's something that was a goal of mine when I got drafted. I want to win the whole thing. But it's not just about winning the award. It's all about the work you do within the community to try to make an impact and try to make change. I'm very fortunate. I'm very blessed to have the opportunity to play the sport that I love and live out my dream and be able to have an impact on children. That's something I wanted to do from the moment I stepped on the field and the moment I was drafted by the Giants. To finally be a recipient for them and hopefully the winner for them is something that's a dream of mine and a goal of mine. Hopefully, I'm able to accomplish it.
"But being honored and being the recipient for the New York Giants is a blessing within itself. If you don't win the award, I know the things I was able to do in the community and the impact that I've been able to have. If someone beats me out for the award, that's a good thing. That's a good thing for the world. That's the only thing I'm about: spreading positivity, spreading good vibes and trying to make a change."
View the best photos of Giants running back and Man of the Year nominee Saquon Barkley giving back to the community.
Players who receive the award wear a patch on their uniform jersey for the remainder of their careers that signifies they were a Walter Payton Man of the Year.
"That's my goal by the end of my career, to play a season or seasons with that logo," Barkley said. "I was kind of jealous when I saw Eli have that logo. I was like, 'That's pretty cool.' And that's something I want."
That is one of the few statements in which Barkley admits desiring something for himself. His focus is normally on satisfying the wishes of others. Barkley credits his parents, Alibay Barkley and Tonya Johnson, for instilling in him the spirit of giving.
"I feel it's a great thing that you're able to do, give back and use your gifts," he said. "God put you in a position of power and gave you a platform, and I think it's your responsibility to try to give back. I think that's just something I was taught and something I was raised on. And as I got older, I continued researching and doing stuff on my own. It's something I truly believe in."
It sometimes seems as if Barkley is involved with a community or charitable cause for each of his 3,992 career rushing yards. Not even he can keep up that pace, but few immerse themself in as many good deeds as Barkley.
Perhaps the best example occurred after his sensational debut season. Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four scores and joined Odell Beckham, Jr. (2014) as the only Giants ever voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Barkley traveled to Atlanta, the site of Super Bowl LIII, to attend NFL Honors, where the award was announced the night before the game.
Like many players who descend on the host city during Super Bowl week, Barkley attended football and social functions. But he also visited Crossroads Community Ministries, where he helped feed and comfort homeless men and women. During a break while ladling soup into bowls, Barkley said, "this is the best thing I am doing this week."
Last week, he reflected on that visit.
"Going to the Super Bowl – obviously not playing in it – the whole week is full of craziness," he said. "There's still time you can do stuff. It's a new city. Why not use the partnerships that I have and the people, the sponsors, that I have to go back to that community and make change? Try to have an impact. Stuff like that can go a long way. A soup drive or a food drive, that can change. That can impact someone's life. That can help someone who's struggling at home.
"I've been very blessed. But I had adversity in my life. I've had struggles. I didn't come from a lot. My mom and dad did whatever they could. They did the things that were important: raised us, gave us knowledge, gave us wisdom, put food on our plate and a roof over our head. At the end of the day, when you really look at it and you break it down, those are things that really matter. I know what giving back to someone could do. I know what that could have done for me. So, that's the reason why I try to do that. That's the beauty of it, having my mom and having my dad and the people I love help me along the way."
In his extraordinary 2022, Barkley has continued his charitable efforts throughout his native Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
In April, he partnered with St. Luke's University Health Network to create the "Saquon Barkley Center of Excellence," a multi-purpose sports facility that will provide opportunities for underserved youth to benefit from physical activity, academic support, and health and wellness services near his hometown in Whitehall, Pa.
"(The center) is a place where kids can go and enjoy themselves, play sports," Barkley said. "I'm a big believer in bringing sports and community together to help in education. But that's just the start. I want it big. I want a big center in New York. I want a big center in Pennsylvania. I want a big center in New Jersey. I want three big ones where it's a place where kids can come and use education and use sports to connect and help them elevate their life and elevate themselves to having careers and accomplish the dreams that they want to accomplish."
Barkley also attended the Lehigh Valley All-Star Football Classic in Nazareth, Pa. to celebrate the high school athletes. He sponsors an annual back to school celebration with backpacks and school supplies for 300 youth in Whitehall, provides Thanksgiving turkeys and meals for underserved families in the Lehigh Valley, and personally handed out 500 turkeys and meals in his birthplace of the Bronx for Thanksgiving last year. Barkley also provides 150 pairs of sneakers in Allentown, Pa. to families for the December holidays. He returns to the region as often as possible.
"There would be no Saquon Barkley if it wasn't for (his hometown)," he said. "Obviously, outside of my family and my loved ones, if it wasn't for Whitehall (High School) and Coplay, Pennsylvania – where I'm from – there wouldn't be me. There were a lot of people that helped me get to this point, so that's why I always want to try to go back to not just Whitehall, but Lehigh Valley. I'm from there. I played high school (football) there. I know there's a lot of kids whose goal and dream is to reach the level that I've gotten to. And I want to inspire them, and not inspire them to just be a football player but inspire them to know that they can do whatever they want and show them that you can be whatever you want as long as you put in hard work, a little bit of dedication and commitment."
Barkley strongly supports Covenant House New Jersey, helping young people ages 18-21 who are facing homelessness and human trafficking by offering immediate shelter and longer-term services that can help them transition to independence.
He is in his fourth year as the celebrity chairman of Covenant House New Jersey's "Sleep Out: Executive Edition" overnight fundraiser. Prior to his involvement, the annual event raised $750,000. In his first year, the figure climbed to $1 million, followed by $1.33 million his second year, and $1.5 million in 2021. This year's Sleep Out was held on Nov. 17 and will increase to almost $5.5 million the amount Barkley has helped raise for Covenant House in four years.
This year, he became involved with Children of Promise, a New York City non-profit that supports kids who have been impacted by the incarceration of a family member by providing after-school programming and summer camps, counseling and therapy, mentoring and family support. He was touched by their mission and now hosts three of their youngsters and a staff member at every Giants home game. He also continues to do the same with kids from Covenant House, continuing the work he started with them in 2018.
Since his rookie season, Barkley has hosted 75 Covenant House youth and 25 staff members at 25 home games and the interactions with the children make it his favorite off-field endeavor.
"Win, lose or draw, I try to be the same person and try to answer the questions the best I can and use those moments to hopefully inspire change or spark them to want to chase their dreams," he said. "When the season's over - we haven't done it in a long time because of COVID-19 - we do an event where I bring all the kids together and just have fun. Last time, we did a bowling event."
Later this month, Barkley will also make dreams come true for 500 New Jersey foster kids by helping the Giants host them at MetLife Stadium for the "Jingle Jam" holiday party. He will party with the children and personally give every attendee a new winter coat, backpack, winter cap and a new ball of their choice.
Barkley has made numerous wishes come true every year of his career through the Make-a-Wish Foundation of New Jersey by hosting children experiencing life-threatening illness for visits to practice, followed by an amazing gameday experience. Always aware of his impact, Saquon goes above and beyond to ensure that every community group or youth football team that is hosted by the Giants organization during training camp or through the season gets photos, autographs and meaningful encouragement from him as part of their visit.
Barkley founded the Michael Ann and Saquon Barkley Hope Foundation with his family to honor his grandmother, and to provide resources to children, young adults and families with a strong desire for positive forward movement.
Saquon Barkley is here to help. And he's just getting started.
"A quote I love is 'One man can change the world,'" Barkley said. "As I got older, I realized that's really not possible. You may not have an impact on millions of people's lives. You may not have an impact on thousands of people's lives; it may only be one. It may only be five. If you're able to at least have an impact on somebody, I feel like I did my duty.
"I truly think that even if I wasn't a football player or a well-known person, I would still do this. I love doing stuff like that. I love giving back, and I want my kids to have the same thing – to try to give back to others and to try to have an impact on others because at the end of the day, that's really what life's about. You only get this one life and you have to make the most of it. The way you can make the most of it is by also changing and inspiring and having an impact on people as you go. That's something I want to instill in my kids, and that's something I want to believe in. Hopefully, they can do the same thing, and hopefully they can do a better job than me."
Their dad has set that bar very high.
View photos of Giants running back Saquon Barkley.