J.J. Watt may have been born and bred in Wisconsin, but in 2017 it was Houston — his NFL home — that needed his help.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, it inflicted $125 billion in damages which ties it with Hurricane Katrina for the costliest tropical cyclone on record, and the human toll was crushing. The hurricane killed at least 107 people in the U.S. and displaced more than 30,000 people.
As we have seen again and again in our nation’s history, often times when disaster strikes, the sports community responds earnestly.
The Houston Texans defensive end sprung into action the day the storm struck Houston. He posted a video on Twitter asking for donations to help with the recovery efforts, and the response was immediate.
The video, shot with his cell phone in a hotel room, was meant to reach $200,000. Donors surpassed that goal almost immediately. After all the fundraising was done, Watt reported over $37 million raised for the city of Houston to help with the hurricane-relief efforts.
The donations went through the J.J. Watt Foundation, of which Watt is the founder and president. The foundation has donated money to Wisconsin and Texas schools over the years and lists their motto as “Dream Big, Work Hard.”
Saturday night the athlete and philanthropist received the Walter Payton Award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back, at the NFL Honors Event.
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“I’ve been fortunate to be on this stage and to win Defensive Player of the Year awards, but everything that you do on the field pales in comparison to what you do off the field,” Watt said. “And at the end of my life, if I’m remembered as a football player and a good football player and that’s all I’m remembered for, then I did a poor job in my life. When I go to my grave I want to be remembered as a guy who helped people out and who tried to do as much as he could off the field to be the best man he could be. I’m trying to make my family proud and my fans proud, and go out there and just be the best person I can be and leave the world a little bit better.”
The NFL presents the Walter Payton Award to a football player who “makes a positive impact on his community”.
Amid Super Bowl hype, a weekend that will be remembered for fallen GOATS and soaring Eagles, Watt shined as the perfect example of what an NFL player and former Badger can do with his platform off the field.