There is an old weightlifting catchphrase among those passionate about the sport that says, ‘You can always do more than you think on leg day.’ At times, one may not understand what they are fully capable of until they give it a shot. As human beings, sometimes people will underestimate themselves and a potential outcome in a certain situation. But that catchphrase will always go to show that human beings will usually shock themselves with exactly how much weight they can pull — it’s all about putting excuses aside and making it happen. J.J. Watt made the underestimation of the century last year, and humankind proved him just how much they were capable of under pressure and in a time of need.
In the fall of 2017, specifically mid-August through early September, one of the most catastrophic storms in history made its way to parts of the United States. Hurricane Harvey would go down as the most costly tropical storm to ever hit America. Its damage exceeded $125 billion. It rated as a category four hurricane, taking 82 lives in total and notching wind speeds as high as 134mph. Cities were devastated. Homes were lost. Families were left with nothing except their dear memories.
Enter: The Houston Texans defensive end.
Watt, the seven year pro out of the University of Wisconsin, witnessed the city of Houston at one of its lowest points of all time and felt as though he had to help by whatever means necessary. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year posted a video across his social media platforms asking for help from the public. He gave his followers a goal of reaching $200,000 in donations to help those in need after the storm. Watt said he would match the first $100,000 given as well.
What transpired was, quite honestly, one of the most memorable demonstrations of human generosity that anyone had ever seen. In just under three weeks, Watt’s message had spread like wildfire, and because of how well-liked and respected he was (and is) across the country, donations rose to $37 million.
It was simply incredible. Celebrities and people in power all across the globe wanted to be part of what Watt was doing. Ellen DeGeneres partnered with Walmart to donate $1 million. Rapper Drake sent a donation of $200,000. Charles Butt, owner of the HEB supermarket chain, put $5 million towards the cause — the largest donation Watt’s campaign received.
Kids across America were raising money via lemonade stands. High school football teams donated ticket sales, which wound up bringing in much more than just face value of each ticket — local high school football fans and families gave in excess of what each ticket cost on several occasions. One high school football game between Greendale and Pewaukee brought in $9,000 which was given to the cause.
In October, Watt spoke to the world regarding just how special this movement had become.
“I cannot thank everyone enough for their support and donations from across the country and around the world. You have truly shown what is possible when everyone bands together for one common cause. While we are going to do some truly incredible things with this $37 million to make it stretch as far as possible, it is only one small step in the massive recovery effort that lies ahead. I encourage you to please continue to find organizations to donate to, whether they be some of the ones listed below or others. Houston will bounce back from this and we will rise up stronger than ever.”
To say Watt was humbled would be an understatement. There aren’t too many words that would do his reaction justice. Watt went on to continually post video updates across his social media which showed exactly where the money was going. He wasn’t one to just send a check off to a handful of companies and wish them well. No, the guy stepped up and got his hands dirty. He would show his followers videos of things like he and a group of volunteers loading trucks full of supplies to send off to those in need. He walked the walk, without a doubt.
Saturday night, the NFL held its annual awards ceremony where it would hand out trophies for league MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and, the most sovereign award of them all — the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Watt was in a group of three finalists that also featured Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who were also overly active and giving amongst their respective communities. Watt, though, appeared to be the frontrunner for the prestigious award — it was pretty obvious.
Following the announcement, Watt was visibly moved.
“This award is about the inherent good that lies within humanity,” Watt said. “It’s about the city of Houston and its ability to overcome adversity at a time when it all seemed lost. It is about the hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country and all over the world who donated to a city they may have never been to, to people that they may never meet. But they donated simply because they saw their fellow humans going through a difficult time and they wanted to help out.
“I cannot express how humbled and honored that I am to be mentioned in the same sentence as Walter Payton. A man who did everything right not only on the field but also off of it.”
Watt joins a class above the rest after winning the honor on Saturday night. But, it’s clear that his efforts behind the award will go on to leave quite the legacy. Every man who wins Man of the Year is more than deserving, but for Watt, his victory will be anything but his own. The victory goes to the people of Houston and every single individual across America who made even the slightest effort to help their fellow humans. Watt deserved the award, but the American people deserve to be remembered as the reason behind it.