The NFL’s Benjamin Watson isn’t letting his recent retirement stop him from contributing to causes off the field.
Over the weekend, the former New Orleans Saints tight end announced his efforts to rebuild three historically Black churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish that were targeted in recent arson attacks.
Opelousas, and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, burned in a 10-day span between March 26 and April 4. Watson, who retired this offseason, followed the situation closely, and on Saturday encouraged his followers to join him in donating toward the rebuild.
“As the 3 church congregations in Louisiana begin to recover join me in supporting their rebuilding efforts,” Watson wrote on Twitter. “It is imperative that we show this community and the entire country that these types of acts do not represent who we are.”
He also shared a link to a GoFundMe page, which has amassed nearly $160,000 in donations, well as an address for mail-in donations.
Last week, Watson contacted the pastors of the three churches, as well as the Rev. Freddie Jack, who heads the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, to see how he could help, the New Orleans Advocate reported. The formers NFL star said he was left “in awe and inspired” after speaking with the pastors, noting their resiliency in the wake of the devastating fires.
“Through sadness and shock they spoke of forgiveness for the arsonist and grace for tomorrow,” Watson told the newspaper. “Most importantly, they spoke of being overwhelmed by support from people of goodwill and all religions from around the country. And they were humbled by what God has already done through this series of events.”
On Wednesday, police arrested Holden Matthews, 21, on three counts of simple arson of a religious building. Matthews, the son of a local sheriff’s deputy, was denied bail after entering a not guilty plea earlier this week and is now charged with a hate crime for the fires.
His trial is scheduled for September.
Watson declined to comment on whether or not Matthews is innocent.
“While I reserve judgment on the man arrested for this crime until proven guilty, the fact that black churches were burned to the ground is a reminder of the fear and pain so many communities have repeatedly experienced since emancipation,” he told The Advocate. “This trauma resides deep within all of us, black and white, in America.”