J.J. Watt can be a little much sometimes. He’s full of tough-guy platitudes and gratuitous displays of competitiveness, and he seems very often to be followed around by cameras under circumstances that are a mix of goofy and self-promotional. This all rubs many people the wrong way.
Watt is the Uber Jock, a man who has swallowed every syrupy sports cliché about effort, enthusiasm, team and sacrifice, and metabolized it all to create one of the most destructive defensive forces of all time. He is Houston’s biggest sports star, and one of the most famous athletes in the United States. His reach is wide, his influence is large, his gifts are many, and it’s clear that because of all that, he considers it his responsibility to be someone to look up to, someone to be proud of, somebody who steps up in the clutch.
In his city’s hour of greatest need, Watt has raised $5.1 million and counting.
Watt is not alone in this. Celebrities all over the country are using their fame to drum up help for Houston, which has just endured the most devastating storm ever to touch land in the United States. As a professional cynic, I tend to be skeptical of public figures whose charitable acts always seem to be recorded for public consumption. As a man writing this from a soggy couch in the middle of a house that smells like a warm pond, I am touched to the point of tears by what Watt and all the donors have accomplished for my city, my neighbors, my friends.
We are watching, to borrow from Brent Musberger, what greatness is all about.
Sports, even at their best, are only metaphorical to real life. The result of a Houston Texans game is only of consequence within the artificial construct of the NFL. Despite what they may say, nobody lives and dies with their local football team. Aside from a few coaches and players, nobody gets fired when the Texans go 2-14, and nobody gets a raise when they make the playoffs. A gallon of milk costs what it costs, irrespective of who made the Pro Bowl.
If sports are important — and I would argue they are — it is because of their capacity to inspire, to lift up, and to serve as a chewable reminder of some of life’s most important principles. Give your best, control what you can control, keep a positive attitude, do the little things, fight, scrap, support your teammates, dream big and never give up. When my house flooded two years ago, and my wife and I were couch-hopping, taking on debt, battling contractors and banks and insurance companies while trying to go to work and keep our spirits up, I found myself quoting to my wife a football coach I used to cover at Kansas, Mark Mangino, who in times good and bad (but especially bad) liked to say, “We just gotta keep sawing wood.” There is only one way to make a comeback, and it’s one play at a time.
But it sure helps to have a playmaker like J.J. Watt on your side.
It goes against everything I believe in to make gods out of athletes, and I don’t intend to make an exception for Watt. I’ve rolled my eyes at him as much as the next guy. But I’ve never doubted his sincerity, I can’t question his effort, and nobody can argue with his results. He has built something — himself — with extraordinary potential to reach people, and he does.
Yeah, J.J. Watt can be a little much sometimes. Thank God.