NFL Player Benjamin Watson Receives Bart Starr Character and Leadership Award

By Tom Gilson Published on February 3, 2018

Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is set to be honored on Saturday morning, February 3, with the Bart Starr Award. This award was created “to honor the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.”

It’s one of only two honors that all NFL players vote on; the other is Pro Bowl status.

Named after the Green Bay Packers quarterback who earned the MVP of Super Bowls I and II, the award will be granted at the 30th annual Super Bowl Breakfast, an NFL-sanctioned event hosted each year by Athletes in Action, a ministry of the global Christian mission organization Cru.

The Stream met up with Mark Householder, president of Athletes in Action this week, at his office at AIA headquarters in Xenia, Ohio.

Athletes in Action President Mark Householder standing next to the Bart Starr Award at AIA headquarters in Xenia, Ohio.

Athletes in Action President Mark Householder standing next to the Bart Starr Award at AIA headquarters in Xenia, Ohio.

Interview With AIA President Mark Householder

The Stream: When was the Bart Starr Award first given?

MH: The first recipient was Steve Largent, in 1989. [Others are listed here.]

The Stream: How did AIA get this opportunity to work so closely with the NFL on the Bart Starr Award?

MH: I think in reality the NFL is concerned about character: good character. We can be overwhelmed at times with bad character and its consequences. AIA recognized that reality in the 1980s: So much of the media was covering the bad choices and consequences of a handful of elite sports figures.

We knew, because we’d been involved as chaplains in pro football, baseball and basketball, that there were many great stories out there. We felt we had a stewardship responsibility to help tell those stories. So we partnered with Bart Starr, who reflects the very heart and desire of this award. People love good character.

“Just to see Bart Starr’s passion for godly character has been great.”

The Stream: Can you tell us one highlight of this whole Bart Starr/Super Bowl Breakfast experience through the years?

MH: One of the highlights is seeing Bart and his wife Cherry embrace this award. Bart is no longer able to attend the Breakfast because of his health, but every year they’ve called the award winner, and until three years ago they attended every breakfast.

Just to see his passion for godly character has been great, and how he’s embraced this and gone to bat for this with the NFL — even making sure we get the right venue and hotel space in the Super Bowl city, which can be very difficult.

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Bart’s been a leading advocate in the NFL for character and making right choices. So seeing them involved over the years has been a highlight.

The Stream: Who is Benjamin Watson, and why was he chosen this year?

MH Benjamin has been the league almost fourteen years, and I think his peers around the NFL recognized him for what this award really represents. He’s been very active in his own foundation, in the communities where’s lived.

He’s written a book on some of the racial issues in America. He’s been a somewhat frequent guest on FOX News, particularly as a voice speaking to racial tension, and he’s very much a healing voice.

The Stream: What can you say that would be especially encouraging to Christian readers?

The Bart Starr Award, on display at Athletes in Action headquarters, Xenia, Ohio.

The Bart Starr Award, on display at Athletes in Action headquarters, Xenia, Ohio.

MH: It’s not a “Christian” award, it’s a character award. But Christians should be encouraged to know that there’s an expression of the Gospel here at the highest level of professional sports. The Super Bowl Breakfast is an evangelistic outreach; we share the Gospel message at every one of them.

We’re sold out at 1700 people this year, many or possibly most of them unchurched executives, including team owners and executives from the NFL office. Several players will be there speaking, and Tony Dungy, a very outspoken believer, will be presenting the award on behalf of Bart and Cherry.

It’s really an event that brings believers together, and they’re excited to tell the Story. And the NFL sanctions it. There’s a lot of Gospel activity in the NFL.

Further Information

The Super Bowl Breakfast takes place in Minneapolis at 8:00 am Saturday. It is not live-streamed. 

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