My 2014 Sportsman nominee: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
Here’s how Russell Wilson spent his bye week this season: he started a charitable foundation.
That has happened before about, well, never. Bye weeks are for visiting family and tropical vacations and sleeping in and popping bottles. They’re designed for rest or revelry, not work. Only Wilson doesn’t rest. He turned his lack of rest into T-shirts (#notime2sleep). He’s fast becoming the NFL’s version of Chuck Norris.
Russell Wilson Fact: Russell Wilson does not sleep. He waits.
The whole charity thing started with Michael Jackson, because everything for Wilson seems to start with Michael Jackson. I followed him for a week in July to report a profile for Sports Illustrated, and I don’t want to hear Michael Jackson again until 2017, at least. I used to like Michael Jackson. Emphasis on used to.
Anyway, Wilson was on a flight to California in late September, with “Man in the Mirror” streaming through his headphones, Bose headphones, naturally, because Wilson the marketing machine is inescapable this fall, and Bose is one of his myriad endorsements. The song got him to thinking about domestic violence in the NFL, and throughout society, and how Ray Rice and Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer and their respective domestic violence cases had placed the league and its beloved shield front and center in a public firestorm.
So Wilson started his “Why Not You Foundation” and called his first initiative “Pass The Peace.” He then enlisted various celebrity friends -- Derek Jeter, Mark Wahlberg, Justin Timberlake -- to call for donations in the manner of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. He also did the smart thing and asked that donations go straight to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
But that’s not why I nominate Wilson for Sportsman of the Year. It’s a window into why. If the award is designed to showcase the athlete or team “that most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement,” Wilson checks off every imaginable box. He trounced Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to win a Super Bowl last February. Let’s start there. The culmination of his second year in the league. Every Tuesday in season, he visited sick kids at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The reporters who asked to accompany him on those visits were told no, sorry. It wasn’t a publicity stunt.
In an NFL season marred by arrests and trials and public mistrust, Wilson has stayed out of trouble. His worst crime: he can seem too polished, too perfect, too intent on controlling his own narrative. All the Bible verses, hospital visits, clichés, slogans, hashtags -- it can all be a little much. But that’s hardly an indictment. It’s more of another way to bolster his case.
Some say Wilson has played as well as anyone in the NFL this season, despite the hangover that has plagued Super Bowl champions in recent years. That’s not my argument. That’s what Ryan Clark, a Washington safety, posited after Wilson accounted for three touchdowns and rushed for 122 yards in Seattle’s 27-17 victory over the Redskins in Week 5. He rushed for more yards than any quarterback in the history of Monday Night Football. “We got beat by, as far as I’m concerned this weekend, the best player in the NFL,” Clark said. He later backtracked slightly on Twitter. He didn’t need to.
The question is no longer whether Wilson is an elite quarterback. He answered that against the Broncos, and again throughout the first quarter of this 2014 season. The question is whether he will one day become the face not of a team but of a league. Peyton Manning is 38, Tom Brady 37, Aaron Rodgers 30. Wilson will turn 26 later this month. He’s the odds-on favorite to become the next Brady, the next Manning, right next to the best the NFL has to offer, like Rodgers and J.J. Watt.
Wilson writes columns in his spare time (for the MMQB and Derek Jeter’s new website). He listens to Rosetta Stone as he drives around Seattle, learning not one new language but three. He has a cameo in the upcoming “Entourage” movie. He participated in spring training with the Texas Rangers. He endorses Alaska Airlines and American Family Insurance and Microsoft and Duracell. He’s even featured in the oh-so addictive Temple Run 2, outrunning demon monkeys through the jungle the same way he sliced through the Redskins’ defense. He’s talented and ubiquitous and marketable, all the best qualities of any Sportsman.
He should be a candidate for years to come.