Not many people get to do something they love and have a passion for as a living. Those that do are fortunate, particularly in the world of professional sports. If you are reading this column, it's likely you dreamed as a kid of being a professional sports star, until reality hit.
Those that really excel, especially in today's media-saturated sports environment, have an opportunity for not just wealth, but become high-profile figures who can, if they choose, use their status to promote causes beyond their own.
Some get it, like the Houston Texan's J.J. Watt. Some don't, like U.S. women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
Both have been in the news lately for reasons beyond the playing field.
Watt continues to be one of professional sports' top philanthropists, known as much for his charitable acumen as his on-field skills as a defensive lineman for the Houston Texans.
Rapinoe continues to voice her displeasure with everything from not making more money to feeling persecuted. It would be a challenge to find somebody who consistently seems to be more miserable, and in the process hurting her own sport's public perception.
Watt, the son of a retired firefighter, recently made a donation of $10,000 to the family of Appleton, Wisc., firefighter Mitchell Lundgaard who was shot and killed while responding to a medical call. Watts made the donation on the GoFundMe page that had been set up to help the family of the father of three children. As of Saturday, the effort has raised nearly $140,000 from 1,900 donors.
Notably, Watt did not make a public display of his donation, just quietly made his sizable contribution. But, it's hardly the first time Watt has stepped up to help. Far from it.
Watt led one of the largest charitable fundraising efforts in the aftermath of 2017's Hurricane Harvey, which rivaled Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as one of the most damaging such storms. Some estimates put the cost of damages from Harvey at $125 billion, hardest hit was Houston.
Stuck in a Dallas hotel room after his team's flight from New Orleans to Houston from a preseason game had to be rerouted due to Harvey, Watt, according to an ESPN report, began fundraising from his hotel room and within two hours raised $200,000. Within three weeks, his charitable crowd-funding efforts exceeded $37 million.
The total eventually, per the Justin J. Watt Foundation, reached $41.6 million according to ESPN. The money was distributed to eight nonprofits.
"I was fortunate enough to witness that generosity first hand, as the fundraiser that I started with a simple goal of $200,000 turned into an unbelievable outpouring of support from people all around the globe," Watt said in a statement.
Watt is maybe an extreme example, but one worth holding up for admiration and praise and his actions have also served to make him an ambassador for his sport.
It is up to each individual athlete if they wish to use any notoriety as a platform and how they wish to use it, if at all. Some would be advised to think twice before ascending that platform.
Rapinoe has chosen to be a lightning rod, preferring it seems to express her constant displeasure of well, everything. It's not as if Rapinoe doesn't have reason to be happy. She is a World Cup champion as a member of the U.S women's national soccer team and an Olympic gold medalist.
Women's soccer is a sport in need of as many positive ambassadors as possible. Other than World Cup and Olympic tournament time, the sport suffers from a lack of coverage. The women's professional leagues barely stay afloat.
The last thing the sport needs is negative attention, but Rappinoe seems to thrive on negativity.
One of the sport's top stars, she has become more known mostly for leading the chorus of cries of the sport's alleged gender pay inequity compared to men's soccer, to being the first in her sport to take a knee during the anthem, and now essentially delivering a middle-finger to most of middle America.
Recently, in an interview with Yahoo Sports, she declared she will "probably never sing the national anthem again," just in time to draw attention away from the team as it prepares to defend its World Cup title in France. She remains angry at the soccer federation's response to her anthem-kneeling when it implemented a rule that required players to stand.
In the interview, she called herself a "walking protest" and aimed her comments at President Trump.
"Because I'm as talented as I am, I get to be here, you don't get to tell me if I can be here or not," she said. "So it's kind of a good ‘F you' to any sort of inequality or bad sentiments that the administration might have towards people who don't look exactly like him. Which, God help us if we all looked like him. Scary. Really scary. Ahh, disturbing.”
Just makes you want to cheer on the U.S,, doesn't it? Right or wrong, taking such a stand reflects on her sport, a sport badly in need of positive press and not misguided, self-serving aggrandizement.
After Watt announced his foundation's multi-million dollar Harvey efforts, he concluded by saying "never stop spreading the positivity."
A pleasant thought. Be like J.J.
Ruthenberg is sports editor for the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.