Last Sunday, in the immediate and catastrophic wake – literally, as the tropical storm continued to pound southeastern Texas for another week – of Hurricane Harvey, NFL star J.J. Watt started a Houston Flood Relief Fund, through his foundation, with the initial goal of raising $200,000.
A week and a half later, the Justin J. Watt Foundation’s fund has, already and incredibly, collected more than $27 million, growing into a global effort involving fellow athletes, celebrities, business leaders, football fans and regular folks. The money has come from nearly 200,000 people, with the latest large donation by H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt, who announced a $5 million personal contribution on Wednesday.
Within two days of launching last week, Watt’s charity had raised $1 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and it’s continued to increase its fundraising goal – which, after Butt’s contribution, had again surpassed its target ($20 million). The generosity has shown no signs of slowing, and on Wednesday Watt said he would extend the fundraiser until Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. CT.
For more information and to give to the Houston Flood Relief Fund for victims of Hurricane Harvey, go to the YouCaring page here.
Always active on social media, the Texans defensive end, who starred at Pewaukee High School and the University of Wisconsin, has become increasingly prevalent in pop culture and on product endorsements. While Watt has sometimes been derided for his well-packaged public persona – and even that also ultimately benefited Watt's charity – he has incontrovertibly utilized his enormous platform to do unbelievable good for his adopted city and region.
In fact, it’s surely Watt’s celebrity that has spurred so many high-profile figures to donate. Among others, Jimmy Fallon and "The Tonight Show" contributed $1 million; Ellen DeGeneres, with Walmart, also gave $1 million; pop star Miley Cyrus donated $500,000, rapper Drake wrote a check for $200,000 and new Rockets player Chris Paul dropped $75,000 into the bucket. For their part, the Green Bay Packers last week announced a $100,000 contribution to Watt’s fund, and invited fans to get involved, too.
Over the Labor Day weekend, Watt began the first phase of his hurricane relief plan. He and Texans teammates dropped off and distributed 10 semi trucks’ worth of goods to the areas hit hardest by Harvey, the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the continental United States, which has caused at least 66 deaths and displaced more than 30,000 people due to flooding.
And Watt did it, according to an ESPN report, without yet using any of the money raised by his foundation’s relief fund, thanks to donations of supplies.
"All 10 semi-trucks were donated. All 10 trucks are filled with goods that were donated," he said. "These are all volunteers. So we haven't even spent a single cent yet and we're already going out and making a big impact. … Football is secondary in this conversation. This is so much bigger than football. But during this season, if, for three hours every Sunday we can take people's minds off of what's happening and put a smile on their face, we're going to do that, and we're going to play as hard as we possibly can to make these people proud.''
He added that, "The biggest thing everybody keeps telling me is, ‘Take your time, make sure you do it right.’"
In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Watt reiterated that message. "Every single day since then has been a reminder of how much good there is out there in the world – that when times are tough and things look bleak, people step up to help their fellow humans, and it has truly been an incredible spectacle to watch," he says. "I cannot thank everybody enough for sharing and donating and doing whatever you possibly can to help this cause.
"These last few days, I’ve been meeting with organizations and people here with boots on the ground, to make sure I gather as much information and as much knowledge as possible to make this money impact as many lives as possible. I want to work to do right by the donors and I also want to do right by the city of Houston and the surrounding areas to make sure we help rebuild as many lives as possible. Stay tuned Houston: We are all with you, and the world is behind you."
Locally, besides being proud of the home-state kid with the big heart, you can help by going to area BelAir Cantina locations and indulging in "Tacos for Texas," which benefits Watt’s relief fund through Sunday, Sept. 17. Read more about that promotion here.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.