Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was recently nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, an honor which recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field.
Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community. The honor was established in 1970 and was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton.
Per the NFL, each of the 32 team nominees receives a $5,000 donation to their charity of choice. The two runner-ups will receive an additional $6,000 donation to their charity of choice. The winner will receive an additional $50,000 donation to his charity of choice. All donations are courtesy of NFL Foundation and Nationwide.
Fans can show support for Watt and can help him win an additional donation to his charity, courtesy of Nationwide. Cast your vote for Watt by simply using his unique Charity Challenge hashtag (#WattWPMOYChallenge) on any social media platform now through December 31, 2015. The player whose unique hashtag is used the most will receive a $20,000 donation from Nationwide to further support their cause.
The three finalists will be announced in January 2016. The winner will be announced during the 5th Annual NFL Honors awards show, a two-hour primetime special airing nationally on Feb. 6, the night before Super Bowl 50, from 9-11 p.m. ET on CBS.
During his five years in the NFL, J.J. Watt has been an unwavering fixture in the Houston community. Even before entering the NFL, Watt petitioned the NCAA for the ability to start a foundation to work toward helping others.
The Justin J. Watt Foundation was founded in Wisconsin in 2010 out of a desire to help underserved kids. His personal motto of "Dream Big, Work Hard" culminated into a mission that he uses to impact communities all over the country. Watt's rise to success has given him an even bigger platform to serve the youth and positively affect their lives. The Justin J. Watt Foundation, through a variety of sold-out events, has donated over $1.3 million to schools in need all over the country.
The foundation assists middle schools that have insufficient funding for after-school athletic programs or no after-school athletics whatsoever. Providing these opportunities for middle-school aged children in the community to become involved in athletics helps them learn character traits of accountability, teamwork, leadership, work ethic and perseverance, in a safe and supervised environment with their peers.
Watt is one of the most dominant players in the NFL, but what is perhaps most remarkable about him is his authenticity and genuine desire to be a role model for children and to help them reach their goals just as he has, and continues to do.
An unsupervised kid planted the first seed for the Justin J. Watt Foundation. When Watt was a junior at the University of Wisconsin, he volunteered at a nearby middle school. A teacher there told him something he couldn't forget. One of her students had gone home after school and robbed the neighbor with a screwdriver. Watt asked if there was some sort of parental guidance or something to do after school and the teacher told him that the young man leaves school at 3 p.m. and his mom doesn't get off work until 5, so he spends two hours by himself. And because of cuts in funding, they couldn't keep him at school.
Watt grew up in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, where most folks had access to after-school sports. He didn't know any different, but he knew he wanted other kids to have the same opportunities he had so he walked into the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic at UW and told them he wanted to start a foundation. Over $3 million has been raised since founding the Justin J. Watt Foundation.
If you spend any amount of time with Watt, you will quickly learn he has a heart of gold. Before training camp of Watt's rookie season, he came across the story of Peter, Aaron and Willa Berry whose parents had been tragically killed in a car accident and both boys left paralyzed. Though he had moved to Houston just days before, Watt drove to the hospital with the simple goal of putting a smile on the children's faces. That visit was the beginning of a lifelong relationship between Watt, the children and the entire Berry family.
His goal is always simple: to bring a smile to the face of someone in need. Watt also supports our military and their families and first responders throughout the year. For every post shared on social media of Watt's visits, there are hundreds more that no one will ever see. No matter the wins, losses or demands of his schedule, Watt will do whatever it takes to bring that smile.