J.J. Watt’s history of giving back

To those who follow the NFL, the monstrous defensive powerhouse known as J.J. Watt needs no introduction.

The Houston Texans star is one of the biggest names in the NFL. He works out a lot. He has strategically uncontroversial views on things like the #TakeAKnee movement. Even though he was born and raised in Wisconsin, he has stepped up time and time again to support his adoptive home of Houston. In short, he’s basically a kind of Captain America, if Captain America also played football.

And this week, Watt made news when he offered to pay for the funerals of the 10 people who were killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School.

His football history

Watt was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and played college football in the area at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but has spent his whole professional career with the Houston Texans, who signed him in the first round of the 2011 draft. (Translation: he’s good, he’s rich and his team loves him.)

He’s a defensive end, which means he is both massive and athletic. The only place you don’t want to meet a man like J.J. Watt is on the wrong end of the football field. In 2014, he signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Texans. (Again: good, rich, loved.)

In the last few years, Watt has suffered several major injuries, including a groin tear, a herniated disk and a leg fracture that have kept him off the field for prolonged periods of time. Nonetheless, his injuries didn’t stop him from using his wealth and influence to pursue some serious do-goodery.

His Hurricane Harvey heroism

After Hurricane Harvey devastated areas around Houston and the rest of the Gulf Coast in August 2017, Watt embarked on what would be his most career-defining charitable effort to date. Through a YouCaring campaign and plenty of social media attention and help from some famous friends, Watt raised more than $37 million for victims of the floods and damage Harvey left behind. Because of his fundraising, he was awarded the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which is given to honor the charity and volunteer efforts of NFL players.

His previous work with shooting victims

Oddly — and sadly — enough, Watt’s offer to the Santa Fe High School shooting victims’ families isn’t the first time he has reached out after such a tragedy. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Watt invited some of the children from Sandy Hook Elementary to meet him and participate in a day of football and much-needed fun at the Texans’ stadium.

His charity work and social views

In addition to his support in times of tragedy, J.J. Watt is also the founder of the (aptly-named) J.J. Watt Foundation. The foundation funds after-school athletics programs and organizations several high-profile charity events a year.

Watt’s reputation as an all-American good guy exists during a time when the NFL is facing questions about what it means to be an American and, indeed, what it means to be a good guy.

Watt has managed to stay at the margins of such controversies. During the #TakeAKnee movement, which headlined much of the 2017 season and intersected with Watt’s Hurricane Harvey fundraising, Watt had this to say:

“I think that I can speak to what I’ve seen recently in the last month or so and the incredible nature of people coming together and the unity people showed in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, in the midst of Hurricane Irma, everybody in Puerto Rico helping out. It’s incredible to see what people do when they come together for a common cause.”

In the spirit of those comments, it should be noted that while Watt is an extraordinary force for good in the NFL and in the Houston community, he is far from the only athlete — in Texas and in pro sports — who donates their time, talent and fortune to others.

During the same 2017 hurricane season that brought Harvey’s wrath to Houston, several MLB players from Puerto Rico raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help out their homeland, which was crippled by Hurricane Maria.

And in another meaningful moment of unity and support after the Santa Fe shooting, Texans players Julien Davenport and Kendall Lamm joined members of the Houston Police Department for their Saturday night patrol.

Watt’s latest offer of comfort to the Santa Fe High School families has netted him widespread support from fellow celebrities and athletes, and echoes a sentiment he tweeted out just days before the shooting.

“If you have the power to make someone happy, do it,” he wrote. “The world needs more of that.”