Culture / Sporting Life

J.J. Watt Makes His Acceptance Speech About Everyone But Him

The Haters Should Be Shamed By This True Man of the Year Moment

BY // 02.04.18

J.J. Watt’s taken some grief over the years — particularly nationally — for allegedly making everything about him. His workouts on Hard Knocks got mocked for being too showy, too look-at-me. His social media posts started getting analyzed with a fervor that should be reserved for something along the lines of the Pentagon Papers (but is too often only reserved for Bachelor recaps).

One prominent ESPN host went as far as calling him “a phony and a fraud” at the height of this never deserved J.J. Watt backlash. Heck, Watt even found himself having to defend calling his Wisconsin retreat “a log cabin.”

Then we get to Saturday night, Super Bowl eve in frigid smiling Minneapolis. There is Watt accepting the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls “our league’s highest honor” — and making it about everyone but him.

Watt raised $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 19 days through the strength of his good nature — and people’s belief in his heart. But he barely mentions himself in his Man of the Year acceptance speech.

Instead, Watt talks about Norbert Ramon, a 24-year veteran of the Houston Police force who helped rescue 1,500 people in Harvey’s aftermath even as he fought terminal colon cancer. He talks about Myron Rolle, the Florida State safety who unknowingly inspired Watt to start his own foundation while he was still in college, playing for Wisconsin. He talks about his “beautiful girlfriend Kealia (Ohai).” He name drops his mom Connie, who’s been so instrumental in his charity, twice.

He talks about the other finalists for the award (the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen and the Baltimore Ravens’ Benjamin Watson) — guys who never had a shot at winning once Watt started taking on Harvey. He brings Houston right onto the stage — with all those past NFL Man of the Year winners — with him.


J.J. Watt talks about everyone — and everything — but himself.

“This award is called the Man of the Year Award, but I promise you it is so much bigger than just one man,” he says. “This award is about the inherent good that lies within humanity. It is about the City of Houston and its ability to overcome adversity at a time where it all seemed lost.

“It is about the hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country and all over the world who donated to a city they may never have been, to people they may never meet.”

If J.J. Watt’s speech is not enough to give you at least a few goosebumps, you already may be too far gone as a cynic.

J.J. Watt’s Haters Shut Down

When the frat boys of sports journalism — the Barstool Sports, Deadspins and all their various wannabes — targeted Watt, they also underestimated him. They’re not the first to do that. But they also seriously misread his character. They didn’t have a clue how Watt would react when something much bigger than football came to his front door.

Watt didn’t make it about him. He made it all about his adopted second hometown and the army of donations he could pull in from around the world — from the $5 million personal check from H-E-B grocery billionaire Charles Butt to the $1 million from Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation to the lemonade stand proceeds from regular kids.

Watt turned everyday decent people into an army — and showed many of them they had more power than they ever imagined.

And at the moment of glory for all this, with NFL stars and Hollywood celebs packed into a theater to cheer for him, with his girlfriend athlete Kealia Ohai wowing on the red carpet in a plunging black dress and shooting dazzling smiles up at him, with his parents and his brothers there to soak it all in, with Peyton Manning giving him the trophy, Watt makes it about Walter Payton’s family instead.

Watt raised $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief in 19 days through the strength of his good nature — and people’s belief in his heart. But he barely mentions himself in his Man of the Year acceptance speech.

He calls Payton’s widow “Miss Connie,” talks about the running back legend’s kids Brittney and Jarrett. Mostly, what Justin James Watt talks about on the eve of the Super Bowl — America’s annual ode to excess and the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar above all else — is loving your neighbor, and doing the little things that make a world of difference.

“The only thing that I ask of you is to join me in trying to carry on the legacy that Walter Payton left behind of leaving this world better than we found it,” Watt says. “Take a moment. Ask yourself, ‘How can I make a difference?’

“No matter how big, no matter how small, how can I make a difference? And when you have your answer, go out and do it.”

This is the guy who’s supposed to be a look-at-me man obsessed with his Instagram reach? Please. At age 28, J.J. Watt is in many ways still maturing into his own man, determining what his life is going to be.

Houston’s always known the true J.J. Watt. Now, the rest of America does too.

He’s the NFL Man of the Year. Yet, somehow you know, so much more is still coming.

Home, chic home.

Featured Properties


Like PaperCity Dallas on Facebook

Beyond the magazine. Get more of Dallas’ top restaurant, real estate, society, fashion and art in your news feed.