Photo: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The National Football League named J.J. Watt the Nationwide Insurance’s 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Saturday night during the NFL Honors Ceremony at University of Minnesota.

The former Wisconsin Badger and current Houston Texans’ defensive end was chosen from a pool of 32 nominees. The award, which is widely considered the league’s most prestigious honor and recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field.

Watt was named after raising more than $3.7 million in 19 days. During the social media campaign’s beginning he raised $200,000 — he matched the first $100,000 with his own funds — from a hotel room in Dallas for the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

“These people and this city have treated me so incredibly throughout my career,” the Wisconsin native told Us Weekly Magazine during the event. “I’ve been so fortunate to play for such good fans, such great city. When you’re going through a situation like this, you obviously want to do anything you can do to help.”

Watt raised nearly $4 million for survivors of Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of JJ Watt Foundation

Instead of focusing on himself, he used his fame to create a positive effect for more than 13 million people and caused approximately $125 billion in damages according to the National Hurricane Center.

“The best thing I could do at the time, which was being stuck in Dallas, was try and use my platform to raise as much money as I could,” he continued. “The people stepped up to the plate. They deserve all the credit. There are so many generous people out there and I’m just the one who coordinates it.”

Man of the Year alumni will be recognized on-field before kickoff of Super Bowl LII, culminating with the introduction of Watt as the 2017 recipient.

Watt, a seven-year veteran in the NFL, has been named to the Pro Bowl four times and is a four-time first-team All-Pro. He lead the league in sacks in both 2012 and 2015 and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He has played in 88 games for the Texans and recorded a total of 394 career tackles and 76 career sacks.

Watt received $500,000 for the award, half of which will go to a charity of his choice and half of which will support the expansion of a Character Playbook  — the NFL and United Way’s digital education program that teaches middle school students how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships — distributed throughout the country.

“He solidified his importance to the city of Houston by being an unwavering figure of hope,” a recent NFL press release stated about Watt. “He dedicated himself to finding organizations that will apply the funds in the way he has promised the donors and victims of Harvey. He recently announced a plan with strategic partners, making good on his promise to ensure that every dollar goes directly to the people of Houston and its surrounding areas that are in need.”

Carolina’s Greg Olsen. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens’ Benjamin Watson and the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen, the runners-up, each received a $100,000 donation to their charity of choice and a $100,000 donation in their names to expand the Character Playbook. Each of the 29 other nominees received a $50,000 donation to their charity of choice and an additional $50,000 donation in their names to expand the Character Playbook.

Per the press release, all donations are courtesy of the NFL Foundation, Nationwide, and United Way Worldwide.


Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State and collegiate and professional football throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.

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