J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans’ charismatic defensive end, has shown again in the wake of Hurricane Harvey what makes him popular with many NFL fans, regardless of team allegiance.
A Wisconsin native, Watt has played in Houston his entire career since being drafted in 2011. He started a crowdfunding effort Sunday for Harvey victims. Donations blasted through the initial goal of $200,000 in two hours, and since then the campaign has gone over $4 million, thanks in part to a $1 million donation by Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk.
The campaign has been so successful, it has overwhelmed the site hosting it at times. YouCaring CEO Dan Saper popped up in the comments to ask for patience as engineers tried to keep up with traffic. Last night Watt changed the fundraising goal to $4 million, then $5 million from an initial $3 million.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 29, 2017
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 30, 2017
A native of Houston, Strunk called the disaster “painful to watch.”
I have been so encouraged to see how the locals and the nation as a whole have come together to help one another. The NFL, at the end of the day, is a family that helps one another in times of need. JJ has created a dynamic where boots will be on the ground with immediate aid to those who need it. The Titans want to be a part of his effort to help the Houston community as it rebuilds. I talked with him earlier today and he was very appreciative. We discussed his plans and I know he is determined to help as many people as he can.
Watt told The Weather Channel this week that his plan is to use the money to purchase necessary relief and rebuilding supplies, load them in trucks, and distribute directly to victims on the ground: “We’re going to take it directly into the people, and we’re going to hand it out,” Watt said.
At that time, the campaign was just over $1 million, but Watt will probably have no shortage of experienced disaster recovery experts willing to help this growing operation and no shortage of scrutiny on how well it goes.
Watt and his teammates have been in Dallas during the storm. The team had planned to fly back to Houston from a preseason game Saturday in New Orleans, but to “ensure the safety of our players, coaches and staff,” went to Dallas instead and will play a preseason match-up with the Dallas Cowboys there Thursday night instead of on their home field.
Watt said the fundraising effort came from a desire to help his town from afar: “You feel a little bit helpless. You know, we’ve got guys here who are seeing their families back home who have young kids, who have wives, and they can’t get back there and it’s a helpless feeling. So I wanted to do whatever we possibly could, and I knew that I wanted to get out in front of it quick. In a situation like this, you want to start raising the money as quickly as you can because I know that these recovery efforts are going to be so massive.”
Watt got into some social and sports media trouble in 2016 during Houston’s last flood for going to NRG to get a work-out in when the mayor had requested citizens other than essential city employees stay home.
Texans’ owner Bob McNair donated $1 million to the United Way. There are other efforts across the NFL:
In addition, the NFL Foundation is matching the Texans’ $1 million relief donation, Cowboys executive vice president Charlotte Jones Anderson announced. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is matching up to $1 million in donations to American Red Cross relief efforts in the region. The Jets announced Tuesday they also will donate $1 million to the American Red Cross.
And for their part, Houstonians sure know how to show their loyalty.
UPDATE: Watt says on August 30 that donations have topped $8.5 million.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) August 31, 2017
UPDATE, August 31, 1 p.m. ET: Donations are now at $10.6 million. For updates check out Watt’s crowdfunding site.