‘All In, Wherever You Are’
‘Walter Payton Man of the Year’ Finalist Benjamin Watson Tells Fellowship of Christian Athletes Why He Shines His Light for Christ
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—On the eve of Super Bowl LII, three NFL standouts will wait to see if their name is called as the 2018 ‘Walter Payton Man of the Year.’ The “prize,” however, is not for themselves, but for others.
Among the finalists is Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who is profiled on the most recent cover of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA, www.fca.org) Magazine, where his influence in the world, not necessarily on the football field, is highlighted in a story titled “A Voice of Authenticity.”
“We’re honored to tell the story of Benjamin Watson in the current issue of Fellowship of Christian Athletes Magazine,” said FCA Magazine Editor Clay Meyer. “It’s amazing when high-profile athletes use the position God has given them to shine their light for Him. Benjamin has worked tirelessly to impact his community and spread the truth of God’s love throughout his career. We congratulate him on his ‘Walter Payton Man of the Year’ finalist honor, and wish him and the other two finalists, Greg Olsen and J.J. Watt, all the best as they continue their great work.”
As a boy, Watson told his mother, Diana, he wanted to be a football player and a missionary when he grew up. Considering Watson’s impact on the football field and in society, he’s accomplished that goal.
Almost every summer, the Watsons loaded up the family car and headed off to a variety of FCA Camps along the East Coast. Benjamin’s dad, Ken, a pastor and football player, was a regular speaker, and camp was the family vacation. The six Watson kids grew up at FCA Camps such as Black Mountain, North Carolina; St. Simon’s Island, Georgia; and Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
“FCA has been a part of my family’s life for a long time,” Watson said.
By the time Watson reached high school, the family settled in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was a Division I prospect in football and had outstanding grades at Northwestern High. After graduation, he enrolled at Duke before transferring to Georgia and having a standout career there. The New England Patriots took notice and drafted him in the first round. Watson played just one game in his rookie season, but found his footing—in more ways than one—in 2005.
After that first year with the Patriots, Watson married his wife, Kirsten. The two had met at an FCA event at Georgia, and Kirsten strived to make their home a place where her husband could “leave work at work” and be himself as a husband, a man and a community leader, not necessarily just as an NFL player.
“There’s not really a balance. It’s not 50-50. It’s 100-100,” Watson said. “You’re 100 percent in your job because that’s what you do to provide and be the best at what you’re doing. When you get home, you need to be 100 percent there. It’s not really a balance; I look at it as being ‘all in’ wherever you are.”
Perhaps thanks to that attitude, Watson soon became an integral member of the Patriots offense, averaging 38 catches and four touchdowns from 2005 to 2007. The following year, Watson was a key weapon on the historic Patriots team that went 18-0 before losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Throughout his career, Watson came to be known as a voice of reason in some very turbulent times in modern history. After the controversial decision in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Watson wrote an essay about his thoughts that garnered hundreds of thousands of shares and reactions on Facebook.
Literally overnight, Watson had become a social media influencer of exponential proportions. And for a guy who had sought to bring glory to God through football, he was in awe of how God was actually using him to make the name of Jesus famous.
“I want to be seen, just like anyone else does,” he said. “And I have to fight against that and say, ‘Am I saying things for me, or because I think this is what people want to hear, or I want my name to be great? Or am I saying something that needs to be said at a certain time?’ It’s important to be faithful and not necessarily be looking for the acclaim of men.”
Watson has spoken about the protests during the national anthem at NFL games, took a stand against abortion by speaking at the 2017 March for Life and shared his thoughts on Facebook once again after the tragic church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, this past fall. He is also an author, writing “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race—And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us” and “The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life.”
These actions, however, are nothing new for the football star and father of five. In 2008, he started his charitable organization, the One More Foundation, which has the mission to bless individuals wherever they are, whether supporting existing charities or initiating programs of its own.
Most recently, according to the NFL, One More partnered with the International Justice Mission (IJM). In partnership with IJM, the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization working to combat human trafficking, modern day slavery and other forms of violence against the poor, the Watsons joined the global fight to end the scourge of sex trafficking.
Watson also annually hosts the “Big BENefit,” an event that offers 25 underserved families an opportunity to provide holiday gifts for their children. Each parent is brought to a local Walmart and is surprised with dinner and a $300 gift card to shop with their favorite Raven. Additionally, Benjamin hosts an annual Turkey Drop by donating 50 turkeys to Adopt-A-Block, helping families in need during Thanksgiving. In 2016, he donated 200 Chick-fil-A meals to first responders assisting with cleanup efforts following devastating floods in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Watson also started a campaign with the fundraising platform, Donors Choose, where One More matches all donations raised. This year’s contributions go directly to benefit local schools in Baltimore, allowing teachers to purchase tools—books, art supplies and iPads—that enhance children’s educational experience. Named one of CNN’s Most Extraordinary People of the Year (2014), Watson regularly appears on FOX News and CNN to discuss the most pressing issues of the day.
Ultimately, Watson sees these efforts as opportunities to point his family conversations back to Jesus’ work on the cross. Benjamin and Kristen want their children to let the Holy Spirit guide their thoughts and decisions, much like Watson did when he originally spoke the truth of the gospel on social media more than three years ago.
“We do want our children to be like arrows and to be shot out as world-changers and culture-changers,” Watson said. “We can’t save our kids, and there’s no magic formula that if we do X, Y and Z, our kids will be believers … But as parents, we want to grow them up and teach them to love the Lord with the hopes that they make a decision for Him.”
Watson was also a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016. Along with the Baltimore standout, Houston’s J.J. Watt and Carolina’s Greg Olsen are also finalists for the honor. After Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, Watt had a goal to raise $200,000 for victims. The tally came in much, much higher, as an incredible $37 million was raised in 19 days. Olsen spearheads two initiatives, one to fight breast cancer and the other to help children with congenital heart defects.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recognizes an NFL player for his excellence on and off the field. The award was established in 1970 and was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community. The awards will be will be revealed on Feb. 3 during the NFL Honors, which airs at 9 p.m. EST and PT on NBC.
Read more about Fellowship of Christian Athletes here, visit FCA’s web site at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.