J.J. Watt's impact on Houston will have lasting effect

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt raised millions for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Brett Coomer/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt didn't have the impact he wanted on the Texans' 2018 season, due to injury, but the effect the defensive end had on the Houston community will be felt for a long time.

Throughout his seven NFL seasons, Watt has always been willing to help others, particularly in the Houston area. But in August, as Hurricane Harvey hit and the city of Houston dealt with historic flooding, Watt started an online fundraiser to help raise money for those affected.

Watt set up a crowdfunding project and donated $100,000 while setting the initial goal at an additional $100,000. Quickly, his videos asking for help with the fundraiser went viral on social media and garnered an incredible amount of attention. Many celebrities and prominent NFL figures made donations to the cause, including Tennessee Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon, who each donated $1 million.

In just 19 days, Watt raised more than $37 million. Watt is one of three finalists -- along with tight ends Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers and Benjamin Watson of the Baltimore Ravens -- for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which will be announced Saturday night during the NFL Honors ceremony.

If Watt gets the nod, he will certainly deflect the credit, as has been his practice. In December, Watt said that winning the award, given to an NFL player who has “a significant positive impact on his community,” would be “such an honor for the whole city, for all that people who donated, to everyone that helped out.”

“I don’t deserve any of the awards that are given to me for that type of thing,” Watt said. “I think that’s all to the people who donated, all the people that helped -- the firefighters, the policemen, everybody who went out in boats to help, all the people that are still struggling in Houston. Those are the people that deserve the credit and the recognition. If I can just be the mouthpiece for that and accept on their behalf, I will do that gladly, but I want everyone to know that that credit goes out to them.”

Watt and his Texans teammates also distributed supplies before the season to those affected by the flooding from the hurricane. But the four-time All-Pro took his time to find causes to which to distribute the donations, something he said he learned from talking to those who worked with money raised in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In October, Watt announced that over the next 18 to 24 months, $30.15 million of the money raised will be distributed among four nonprofit organizations to help rebuild homes, restore child-care centers and provide food and medical care. The other $7 million, Watt said, was set aside to be used in 2018 “as we continue to assess and analyze the evolving relief efforts.”

While he was sidelined due to a leg injury, Watt made it a focus to not only oversee how the money was distributed, but to get out in the community and meet those affected by the hurricane.

“I’ve been out to visit,” Watt said in October. “I’m going to continue to visit in the next few weeks, months and years, and once I’m able to go out, I’m going to start helping on my own.

“To hear the stories -- you literally can’t fully understand and wrap your head around it until you go out and you meet the people and you see the stories and you see their homes and you see the excitement in their voices when they get to go back into their homes and you see the sadness that they had during those times. For me, it’s just been such a great experience to be able to learn from them and see where this money is going and also try and share that with the people so they get an update.”