Watt was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year, an award he shares with fellow Houston All-Star, the Astros' second baseman, Jose Altuve. Altuve was named the American League MVP and helped his team capture their first World Series title with his .452 postseason batting average. No one will argue that all 5'7" of Jose Altuve was a worthy candidate for SOTY. Watt, on the other hand, may have been a surprise. He experienced a devastating knee injury a little more than six weeks after Harvey’s landfall which sidelined him for the rest of the season. However, what Watt did with that post-surgery time, is not only remarkable, it's a reflection of who he is, how he was raised and what sustains him.
With all three sons now in the NFL, the Watt family has always had a hefty grocery bill. But they were known for feeding half of J.J.’s football team out of their kitchen. “The boys depleted our savings for college as our food bills skyrocketed and the travel bills went up,” says John. “We said, ‘I hope they get scholarships.’ ” They did..and they didn't. J.J. left his scholarship at Central Michigan to pursue his dream of playing at the University of Wisconsin. Fortunately, his success as a Badger paved the way for his younger brothers Derek and TJ. Madison to fit those bills.
The Watt family's sense of giving was in no way limited to the dinner table. Robert Klemko writes, "By J.J.’s teenage years, the lessons imparted on the Watt boys were being put into practice. When J.J. was 13 and his mother was offered a full-time job that would require her to stop volunteering at the local elementary school, reading to children, it was Watt family code that she’d find a replacement before accepting the new gig. Says Connie, “And J.J. right away said, ‘I’ll take over your volunteer hours.’ And he did.”
Watt raised $37 million for the relief efforts in Houston. What is both inspiring and impressive is yes his commitment, dedication, and sheer desire to use his platform for good, but moreover that his works fuel others to do the same.
Of no surprise, back in Pewaukee—Watt's hometown, Connie, his mother, helped organize a food-and-supply drive that ultimately sent 10 semi-trucks and a cargo plane headed to Houston, packed with goods. Local farmers and truckers donated not only their time but also the money required to get a convoy of 18-wheelers across the country and back. “We begged them to let us at least pay for gas,” Connie says, “and they just refused.”
A five-hour drive north of Houston, in Hudson, Iowa, Kevin Yoder and Michael Roberts, volunteer co–head coaches on their sons’ third- and fourth-grade flag football team, wondered if their boys would be interested in helping out. After all, they were extended members of the Houston family—months prior, in a random draw, their team was assigned Texans-branded uniforms.
“We gave them the challenge on Tuesday night [after the hurricane],” says Yoder. “ ‘Go home, do extra chores, turn in your pop cans, and we’ll see how much we can raise by Thursday.’ We thought they might come back with $50.”
Instead, the boys returned with $559. They printed up a novelty-sized check and sent a picture, along with the money, to Watt. Yoder, meanwhile, was reminded of a Bible story that his sons, Anderson and McCoy, had studied. The Lesson of the widow’s mite, from the Book of Mark, describes Jesus observing wealthy people donating to charity in large amounts—and a single widow donating a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”Even with his $100 million dollar contract ($59.1 million of which is guaranteed), Watt has given generously—reminding me the lesson of this parable is not for him, but for me.
On Saturday, May 19, Watt announced that he would pay for the funerals of those killed in the shooting at Santa Fe High School. "Ten people were killed Friday morning and 10 more were wounded when a 17-year-old carrying a shotgun and revolver opened fire at the high school about 30 miles from downtown Houston." The Texans have confirmed his statement. I should be surprised. I'm not. Amazing.
I've always been partial to comfort food. It lives up to its name. My hope is that the students and faculty at Santa Fe High School are finding comfort in meals made by neighbors, in the love and support of one another, in prayer and in time for grief.....and I'm sure in the gifted charity of J. J. Watt—his other great fuel and sustenance.