By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
Many men play in the National Football League. Few are like Benjamin Watson.
Not only because he has played 14 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots, but because of the difference the tight end has made for a variety of people off the field.
For the second time in three years, he is a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, as he also reached this stage in 2015 while with the Saints. It recognizes a player for the commitment he has demonstrated in helping others in the community.
“Being a finalist again is really an honor. I came home and told my wife, called my parents and they were excited too,” said Watson, the Ravens’ nominee, and one of three finalists along with Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
“I think the first time I didn’t even really know that much about Man of the Year. I knew that every team selected a representative and I knew guys like (Saints quarterback) Drew Brees, being on my team in New Orleans, had been selected Man of the Year (in 2006). But I hadn’t followed it as closely at that point.
“And then to be recognized by the organization again was really humbling in a different way. Whereas the first time it was kind of exciting and I didn’t really know what to expect. This time I’m really cherishing it because you never know what’s promised the next year of this game after playing for 14 years. Of course, you want to play forever, but you know that time is ticking and you’re closer toward the end, so I’m relishing it.”
It’s also evident that Watson, his wife, Kirsten, and their family also relish helping others through their One More Foundation.
“The mission stated is spread the love and hope of Christ to one more soul by meeting people’s real needs, by promoting education and by partnering and supporting existing charities. It’s fairly broad in that we wanted to create our own legacy that we can pass on to our (five) children,” Watson said. “The idea is that everybody can do something kind for one more person. When somebody does something for one more person, you turn around and do something for somebody else. That’s how change happens exponentially when people are willing to do things one person at a time.
“When we look at the ills of the world, when we look at poverty or hunger, homelessness, lack of education, when we look at sex trafficking, something we’ve been involved with, criminal justice, whatever it may be, when you look at all these different things that are happening, not only domestically but globally, the problems look so big.
“We started our foundation so we could do some events we could invite people to; we could support different causes at different times. Most recently we’ve partnered with International Justice Mission, which is the world’s largest anti-slavery organization. We’ve taken a trip with them (to the Dominican Republic) to kind of see firsthand the work that they do, saving people from slavery and abuse and also correcting justice systems to protect them.”
Watson, who won the 2017 Bart Starr Award, which is presented to the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community, continued. “We support other charities across the country and around the world. The biggest thing for us is we wanted to create something where our kids could be involved. Our last couple times around Christmas when we had an event, my oldest two daughters have been able to come and see us not only try to meet someone’s needs, but build a relationship with them and really tell them that they’re wanted, that they have value no matter what the outside world’s telling them about their status. They’re valued because they were created by God.
“We want our children to see that and instill in them early just the sense of gratitude and also being a conduit when they receive blessings to pass along to other people.”
The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner will be announced during NFL Honors, a primetime awards special which will air nationally on February 3, the eve of Super Bowl LII, at 9 PM (ET and PT) on NBC.
$500,000 will be donated in the name of the winner – $250,000 to the winner's charity of choice and $250,000 in his name to expand Character Playbook across the country. The two other finalists will each receive a $100,000 donation to their charity of choice and a $100,000 donation in their names to expand Character Playbook.