It’s easy to poke fun at Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson sometimes.
There are obvious brand-building posts on social media, where he’s posing on a horse in Mexico or announcing his contract extension shirtless from his bed. And there are cliché-filled news conferences, which carry about a 0.4% chance of something interesting emerging.
But the truth is, the world is a better place with Wilson in it. I’m not sure that’s talked about enough.
On Saturday night, the Seahawks quarterback received the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. It was a reminder of the commitment he has shown to the community since he arrived in Seattle. Was it as flashy as the Lombardi Trophy he won in his second year, or the elusive NFL MVP award? Probably not in most people’s eyes. But it may be worthy of just as much pride.
It’s easy to take incessant acts of charity for granted. Giving one’s time or money isn’t as sexy as throwing four touchdown passes or racking up 300 yards. Fans aren’t as concerned about their favorite athletes’ altruism so much as they are their health or performance on the field. But it doesn’t mean those philanthropic acts should be ignored.
One thing Wilson has done since he arrived in this city is visit Seattle Children’s hospital just about every Tuesday during the season. It’s tough to understate the thrill a sick child must feel when one of their heroes pops in to see them — not to mention the emotion that their parents must experience. Might some people think Wilson’s posting pictures of all these interactions is another attempt at brand building? Yeah, probably. But who cares? In those situations, the kids’ reactions are all that matters.
Speaking of kids, last fall Wilson and his wife, Ciara, ponied up $1.75 million to fund a charter school just south of Seattle. Formerly known as Cascade Midway Academy, the Why Not You Academy is dedicated to serving the needs of underserved students in the area. The coronavirus pandemic had initially forced its closure before Wilson and Ciara stepped in. Did that get as much press as his four-touchdown performance against the 49ers a few days after the announcement? Not quite. But it will be far more impactful.
“If I can serve others, I think that’s my responsibility,” Wilson told Seahawks.com. “It’s my responsibility as a quarterback to serve to help my teammates, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity and gift to be able to give back to others around the country, around the world, and I think that’s why God has me right where I am, and I’m grateful for it every day.”
Of course, it’s not unusual for athletes to devote time and money to causes they deem important. Wilson seems to do a little more than most, though. According to a 2019 story on moneyinc.com, Russell is one of the 20 most charitable athletes in the world. And 2020 was a particularly giving year.
In addition to the cash they put toward the school, Wilson and Ciara donated $1 million to Feeding America and Food Lifeline last year. They also helped launch the Meals Up campaign, which delivered more than 50 million meals to people in need.
“For me personally, 2020 really changed my perspective,” Wilson told Seahawks.com. “I’ve always thought about others, and that’s always something that’s been important to Ciara and me, but when you realize that so many people every day can be affected in so many different ways, it was so important that we give back. It felt like God was calling on us to do something, calling on us to use our resources, use our networks of relationships and such to come together and really try to make a difference.”
Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in football and may go down as the greatest Seahawk in history. He has won a Super Bowl, made eight Pro Bowls, and not long ago was the highest-paid player in the game. But his work has gone far beyond the field.
People might find his antics corny at times. They may find many of his answers boring, too. You don’t have to like everything he does — but it’s hard not to admire the way he’s given back.