Peter Holley: A lot of pro athletes have foundations, and the stereotype is that they’re little more than a tax break, but it seems like you’re very invested in your foundation. I’m curious where that investment comes from?
J.J. Watt: I’m very invested in it. I started it my junior year in college. I didn’t have money. I was doing a lot of volunteer work in a lot of different schools and I saw that not everybody had the same opportunities that I was fortunate to have throughout my life. Every kid that we affect, it hits home to me because I know what sports can do. I know how athletics can help change a life. My mom runs it, and I’m the president, obviously, and one of my best friends is on the board. We started it in my basement, and the concept when we actually launched it—we were in a coffee shop, and it’s kind of a grassroots thing. We started from the bottom with nothing and now we’re selling out baseball stadiums for a softball game. We’re raising almost a half million dollars a year, and it’s going to keep growing. It’s crazy to think about how much has happened in such a short period of time.
It seems like the better you do on the field the more exposure you can get. Does that factor into how you approach the game?
Of course. With all the fame and all the great opportunities I get off the field with my foundation, all of that goes away if I don’t play well. So that’s why I’m so committed to my training, that’s why I’m so committed to preparing myself, preparing my body, because I know that all this can be taken away in a heartbeat if I don’t perform.
And you started this in college. Were you certain that you were going to make it to the NFL at the time?
I definitely didn’t know for sure, but I was hoping. Whether I was going to the NFL or not it was something I wanted to do, because I wanted to help change lives. I wanted kids to have that opportunity to succeed. And some of the situations that I had seen, kids were basically almost being stripped of that opportunity before they even had a chance to know what was out there for them. And that’s not fair.
I’m assuming you credit athletics for giving you a head start by comparison. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, athletics taught me things that I used beyond the field. I learned, obviously, teamwork, discipline, work ethic, time management. I learned how to structure my day, how to commit to something and really dedicate yourself to something. I learned so many different things. One thing we know about my foundation, after reading through some research, is that kids that have an after-school program—whether it be sports, music, anything—they perform better in school because they have something to look forward to at the end of the day. They have a reason to have success. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not only helping them on the field. We’re also trying to make sure they have something to look forward to and they have a reason to want to have success in the classroom.