MINNEAPOLIS — J.J. Watt didn’t have the impact on the field that he wanted this season. A broken leg in October cut his season short.
But the Houston Texans defensive end practically had a major NFL award wrapped up by then for what he did off the field.
Watt asked people to give money to help Houstonians impacted by Hurricane Harvey. He wanted to raise $200,000. He ended up raising $37 million. Watt’s fundraising was amazing and it was no surprise when he was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year on Saturday night at the league’s annual awards show. The award is given annually to a player who makes charitable contributions off the field.
“This award is called the man of the year award, but I promise you it is so much bigger than just one man,” Watt told the crowd at “NFL Honors” when he accepted the award. “This award is about the inherent good that lies within humanity. It’s about the city of Houston and its ability to overcome adversity at a time when it all seemed lost.
“It’s about the hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country, and all over the world, who donated to a city they may never have been to, to people they may never meet, but they donated simply because they saw their fellow human going through a difficult time and they wanted to help out.”
Watt provided hope for people in Houston who had to rebuild after the hurricane. It quickly became the biggest feel-good story in the NFL this season. After raising all that money, Watt and his foundation had to figure out a way to distribute it. He announced in October the money would be used in four ways: rebuilding homes, restoring child care and after-school programs, food, and medical service for both physical and mental health. Watt partnered with non-profit organizations SBP, Save the Children, Feeding America and Americares to distribute the money to those causes.
Watt said the efforts will take a while, and he talked about stories of going out and meeting people and helping out. He said he has been struck by the positivity he encounters from people going through a rough time.
“When you go out there and meet people, they have so much hope, they have so much desire to make it better,” Watt said in a press conference after winning the award.
While the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award could have been divided evenly between all the people who donated, Watt was the face of the remarkable campaign. Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year, is one of the most visible players in the NFL and the campaign showed the positive impact sports can have. That may have indirectly led to a trend at the end of the season, in which fans were giving to other players’ foundations for beating a certain team or helping win their fantasy league. Most famously, Buffalo Bills fans gave generously to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s foundation after Dalton’s touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens helped the Bills make the playoffs.
Watt made a moving speech about helping others out.
“Time and time again, we were shown how beautiful and generous the human spirit can be,” Watt said. “In today’s world, more than ever, it is that spirit we need to see more of.”
Watt beat out finalists Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers and Ben Watson of the Baltimore Ravens. Olsen and Watson both had tremendous impacts off the field as well, as Watt recognized when he was named a finalist. Olsen’s HEARTest Yard Fund helps families of babies affected by congenital heart disease. Watson’s One More Foundation had a focus last year of stopping sex trafficking in the Dominican Republic.
Humbled & honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as Walter Payton. Also happy to share the nomination with @BenjaminSWatson and @gregolsen88 who are both extremely deserving. This is so much bigger than just one man. It’s about the good in all of humanity.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) January 21, 2018
It’s tough to pick between acts of kindness and charity, but once Watt’s hurricane relief efforts became such a big story around the sporting world, it was clear he was the favorite to win the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The people of Houston will certainly agree with him taking home the trophy.
“Whether we realize it or not, we’re affecting everyone around us with our every move,” Watt said in his acceptance speech. “The more we can shine a light on the positivity and the good in this world, the better off we are going to be. We all have to go through this crazy journey together, so why not help each other out and make it as great of a journey as possible?”
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