The NFL season hasn’t started but there’s already a standout contender for MVP. JJ Watt is undoubtedly one of the most popular players in the game.
The Houston Texans star is a man of the people, a reassuringly down to earth throwback in a sport polluted by bad boys, bling and cash rich nonsense.
He’s been at the franchise his entire career, memorably powering them into the playoffs in his first campaign. Injury restricted the defensive end to just three appearances last season though his personality and positivity remained ingrained in Houston.
And his popularity – and the levels of respect shown – have skyrocketed in the last few days following a brilliantly, wholehearted effort to help the people of his home state deal with the catastrophic hurricane which has destroyed thousands of lives with more pain to follow.
What started with a Twitter plea for $200,000 (Dh735,000) to assist those affected by Tropical Storm Harvey has snowballed into a multi-million dollar relief effort which continues to grow.
At the time of writing, Watt’s fundraising effort had surpassed the $17 million mark (Dh62.4m). The targets are changing all the time but now he wants to eclipse $20m (Dh73.4m).
Opting against using a national charity and instead bringing money in via Youcaring.com, a feefree crowdfunding site, just added to the honesty of his heartwarming efforts.
“The initial night, we broke the site, we couldn’t figure out how to get it back up and we somehow found the CEO’s phone number and called him at his house and got him out of bed,” Watt said. “He helped us fix the site and it got rolling.”
Yet this isn’t just the tale of another sports star putting his name to a relief effort. Watt has been hands on.
This is what we’ll be distributing today pic.twitter.com/YVyOC4jRaj
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 3, 2017
He may have a season opener to think about but that hasn’t stopped him helping arrange deliveries of desperately needed supplies to areas of Houston and beyond where over 100,000 homes have been affected by the worst storm ever to smash the United States. He’s helped organise and galvanise.
The category 4 storm delivered 50 inches of rain – that’s what the most flood-prone area in the country normally receives per year.
It will take weeks for the flood waters to disperse and experts predict it will be many months – years perhaps – before a city of over two million people is able to return to any semblance of normality.
President Donald Trump made an appearance at the weekend, assuring shattered, heartbroken residents everything will be fine.
Hollow words which cannot be compared to Watt’s gargantuan efforts, though Trump has dipped into his own pocket by donating $1m (Dh3.6m) while the federal costs to help restore the damage are predicted to creep close to an astonishing $8 billion (Dh29.4bn).
“We have about nine semi-trucks that are going to come to town. And we have those all filled with stocks, supplies, water, food, clothing, everything, ” said Watt of his plans.
“We want to make sure we get these people exactly what they need, so we can help rebuild as quickly as we can.”
It’s an unbelievable effort though the 28 year-old has terrifically admirable previous. When a penniless university student tweeted about being unable to buy new running shoes, Watt sent him a new pair.
Impromptu visits to sick children from the big guy with the even bigger heart have not gone unnoticed either. In this polluted modern world of social media backlashes and cynicism, many stars in the spotlight attempt to use bad news stories to enhance their own brand.
That, however, isn’t JJ Watt. “I just want to be that guy that parents can point to and say, ‘He does it the right way’,” he said. Watt , however, wasn’t alone in attempting to help ease the pain of this catastrophic natural disaster.
The Dallas Cowboys raised more than $2m (Dh7.3m) during a local 90-minute telethon which added to the sizeable donation made by franchise supremo Jerry Jones (left) to the Salvation Army.
The owners of teams such as the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and New York Jets all weighed in along with Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. NBA superstars Steph Curry and James Harden have also contributed.
America – and its sporting community – have, for once, excelled themselves. Good on them. And good on JJ Watt.
How Jurgen Klinsmann must have smiled on Friday night. It was an awful 4-0 thumping at the hands of Costa Rica last November which saw the German axed by US Soccer.
Yet the impressive Ticos were at it again in an impressive 2-0 win to leave Bruce Arena sweating on reaching next summer’s World Cup.
That made it two home defeats in the push for Russia – the first time that’s happened in World Cup qualifying since 1958. And, furthermore, it’s added extra pressure on Klinsmann’s successor, Bruce Arena.
Group leaders Mexico have sealed their ticket so that means tomorrow’s match with Honduras, who moved level with the US after beating Trinidad and Tobago, is crucial with only three automatic spots up for grabs.
The US should still make it but Arena, in his second coming as national boss, seemed an uninspired choice at the time and as the dust settles on this latest setback, those feelings refuse to dissipate.
It appears large sections of the US media have washed over Maria Sharapova’s drug shame.
Host broadcasters ESPN have certainly adopted a ‘nothing to see here‘ policy with the Russian, who was banned for 15 months for using a prohibited substance yet remains the darling of their coverage.
With the likes of Serena Williams, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic all missing the final slam of the season, Sharapova’s return from the darkness has been their story so far.
She has been bigged up all week by the TV network, joining the US Tennis Association in the ranks of the sycophants after shamefully giving her a wildcard into the main draw when she should have been qualifying with everyone else.
The five-time major winner may remain a superstar, but ESPN’s fawning in particular has made for uneasy viewing.
“Maria is quicker around the court now than before she took 15 months off, “ said analyst Chris Evert. She wasn’t taking a very long holiday. Pass the sick bag please.