When devastation strikes, the silver lining we can hope we're lucky enough to be able to point to is the surge of goodwill and instances of everyday heroism that rise in its place as people unblinkingly come together to help others in need.
Tropical Storm Harvey will ultimately be a test for government—local, state and federal—when it comes to rebuilding in Houston and other cities affected by one of the biggest natural disasters the modern United States has ever seen, but it's impossible to discount the efforts of nonprofit aid groups and, at the root of them, the individual people who give what they can—be it money, goods, services, shelter or simply a pair of able-bodied hands—to the relief effort.
Numerous celebrities, whether they hail from Texas or not, have joined forces to contribute millions of dollars so far, with Tyler Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sandra Bullock among those who've each pledged $1 million. And one of the most heartwarming shows of cold, hard cash to be summoned by a celebrity's efforts is the success of the You Caring flood relief fund started by NFL star JJ Watt—which this morning crossed the $15 million mark, just a few days after he ran over his initial goal of $200,000 like a receiver mowing down an opponent on his way to the end zone.
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"I'm sitting here watching the news, checking the Internet and seeing everything that's going on with Hurricane Harvey and the damage it's causing back home, it's very difficult," Watt said in a video posted to Twitter Aug. 27 to alert everyone that he had established a donation page. "It's very difficult, not only because we have family and friends back there, some guys have kids, some guys have wives and families. But that's our city. It's very tough to watch our city get hit by such a bad storm and not be there to help with the recovery, not be there to help with the process." (He and his fellow Houston Texans were in Dallas at the time, working out at the Cowboys' facility in anticipation of a since-canceled preseason game between the interstate rivals.)
"It's very tough," Watt continued, "so what I do want to do is, I want to start a fundraiser because I know that these recovery efforts are going to be massive...Houston's a great city, we're going to come out of this stronger than ever, but we're going to need a lot of money to help these people rebuild."
After he hit $500,000 within 24 hours on Aug. 28, he raised the goal to $1 million, and he's been moving the chains ever since.
Yesterday, after they hit the $10 million mark, Watt said that "phase one" was underway, with semi-trucks loaded with supplies were headed to places of refuge to start making an impact immediately. "We have things like water, food, clothing, generators, baby supplies, cleaning supplies—but if there's something I'm not thinking of, please leave it in the comments because we want to make sure we get these people exactly what they need, so we can help rebuild as quickly as we can."
He also tweeted, "$10 million. Absolutely incredible. The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity."
Indeed. But in a time when newscasts are also running segments on how to pick out the fraudulent "charities" from the real ones, and even the American Red Cross was under fire for allegedly having a history of spending a disconcerting portion of donations on overhead and not enough on actual aid, how were people so instantly willing to send cash Watt's way? From Ellen DeGeneres, who secured a $1 million donation from Walmart, to the man who noted next to his $ 10 donation: "Its not much, but all we have is $12 in our account. People of Houston need this more right now"—wallets are opening everywhere.
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Well, for starters, the people of Houston friggin' love JJ Watt. And not only because he's been a Texan for his whole career to date, a three-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, holder of the franchise record for sacks and forced fumbles, an impact player who helped carry the team to their first playoff appearance ever in his first season, and was still No. 35 on the NFL's Top 100 Players list in 2016 despite only playing three games due to injury.
Though that's more than enough reason for some fans to pledge undying loyalty. (And it's why the Texans signed him to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $100 million in 2014.)
Rather, the 28-year-old Watt, a Wisconsin native who was drafted No. 11 by the Texans in 2011, is by all accounts a hell of a person.
The kind of guy who in July sent a pair of his signature Reebok training shoes to a "broke college kid" who lamented on Twitter that he couldn't afford them. "We've all been there (yeah, even on scholarship I was on the Ramen diet a time or two). I got you Gavin, DM me your address," Watt, who played college ball for University of Wisconsin, tweeted back.
The kind of guy who personally delivers pizza to the winner of a Papa John's promotional fundraiser for Watt's Justin J. Watt Foundation, which benefits after-school opportunities for disadvantaged kids. (He had delivered for Pizza Hut to pay for a scooter he wanted to buy in college, so he was familiar with the ins and outs of the job.)
The kind of guy who surprises a 12-year-old homebound leukemia patient who was attending school via a robot that allowed him to go from class to class and participate remotely—a robot the boy had named "Watt." Per KHOU-TV, the human Watt spent two hours with Cristian Beasley, who was wearing a Watt jersey and Texans beanie when his hero got there, talking and tossing a football around in the yard.
The kind of guy who in January visited 8-year-old Noah Fullmer, who was nursing two broken legs after a terrifying New Year's Eve car crash at Houston's Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital, to present the child with a new JJ Watt jersey—Noah's original having been ripped apart during the rescue.
Asked at the time about his reluctance to have reporters tag along on his visits with kids, he said on Today, "I've been doing it for a long time, we do it so often, and you know it's kind of sad. We live in a cynical world where if you have the media along people think you're doing it for the wrong reasons. I've been doing so much of it that it just kind of became, people thought, it was all about the cameras.
"It's one of those things that I also like the time where it's just me and the patients, just me and the kids," Watt added. "We don't have any distractions, we don't have anybody else around, it's just us."
And since the stories get out anyway, even when there isn't media along, he figured he may as well share some of the inspiring stories he gets to hear and be a part of.
At the end of the day, "I just go out there and try to do it the way everybody else would do it if they were in my shoes."
One would think.
Of course, not everyone in a position comparable to Watt's is that generous with his time or money—not everyone lives up to the fans' adulation, or the idolizing that results solely from heroics performed on the field or court, regardless of what happens off it.
But at the same time, professional athletes as a group stand out especially among the celebrity set for the amount of time spent giving back to fans, whether individually or as a team, just in general, regardless of what's going on in the world at the time. And the "Hollywood" celeb set (exact geography notwithstanding) is pretty impressive in that regard too. You're hard-pressed these days to come across a celeb of any level of fame who isn't affiliated with a at least one charity, possibly one they've started themselves, or who isn't a regular at children's hospitals, or who doesn't help out with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, etc.
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The telegenic Watt is a star who maneuvers easily between both worlds (though that didn't make him any less starstruck when he finally got to meet his crush, Jennifer Aniston, awhile back), but despite enjoying numerous commercial endorsements and the occasional movie or TV cameo, he's football and family first the rest of the time. Though he has a lovely spread in Houston, he spends the off-season rebooting in a 4,500-square-foot "cabin" in the Wisconsin countryside, closer to family and friends he's had since he was a kid.
"I'm away from that craziness of the fame and the spotlight and everything, so that when I do come back, I'm ready for it...I'm excited for it again," he told NFL.com before the 2015 football season began.
His much-publicized Aniston crush also drew the spotlight to his dating life, or lack thereof. He may not intentionally be mirroring Derek Jeter's game-first, settle-down-later ways—it's just turned out like that so far.
"Trust me, I would love to have a wife and kids," he said. "I would very much enjoy that. But I also know that you have to be in the right place to do that. You have to find the right situation, and you have to be in that right mindset where you can give everything you have to that. Because whatever I do, I want to be the best at. I want to be the best husband. I want to be the best father. And I need to make sure that I have figured out the proper balance in my life so that I can give the proper time and energy that's needed for that situation."
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It's OK, the media will do their best to pair him off in the meantime.
"It's always surreal," Watt, who was shooting a commercial for a local grocery store while doing the interview, also said. "I mean, it'll never stop being surreal. This is crazy. Nothing about my life now will ever be normal, because it's not—it's crazy, it's absurd, it's awesome and it's unbelievable."
And while finding major success on the field, both thanks to his natural talent and a single-minded work ethic, he managed to also become a shining example of what happens when fame and money are bestowed on the right person—you get a guy who tirelessly wants to pay his good fortune forward.
Moreover, times like these, when actors, musicians, athletes and other recognizable names have come together to organize telethons, rally support and otherwise pour money into the most urgent cause of the moment, are a reminder that criticizing "Hollywood celebrities" for speaking their mind about politics, about world events, about national affairs... is nonsense.
You're talking about active citizens of the world who have the right as much as anybody to use their voice—and their platform, whether it's a podcast, a TV show, a playing field or 10 million Twitter followers—to stick up for what they believe in. More often than not, they put their money right where their mouth is, when opportunity calls for it.
They're not all just here to entertain us, and we should be thankful for that.
"I just want to be that guy," Watt said on Today, "that parents can point to and say, 'He does it the right way.' They don't mind their kids looking up to me as a role model."