Benjamin Watson is known to many as a former NFL tight end who wore the uniforms of the New England Patriots (twice), Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. But back in 2014, more than a decade into his playing days, Watson, a pastor’s son, emerged as a social media leader as well as an advocate for Biblical justice and the sanctity of human life. Watson shared some of his thoughts with Decision three days after attending the 2023 March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Q: In the last several years, many people who aren’t even football fans have come to recognize your name because of your social media presence. Your first post in 2014, on the matter of race and the Christian faith, went viral. Did you ever conceive that God would use you in the social media realm?
A: No, not at all. I really point back to that first post that I wrote, after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown. I had to have someone help me post it. It was my 11th year of football. I was going through some career frustration that many players experience. But God used that point in time to give me opportunities to speak about issues of faith and race in America. I look back at that and say, “Wow, God allowed me to do that.” There’s a downside to social media, but there’s also great opportunity to engage people and ultimately spread the Gospel while talking about some of the most important issues of our day.
Q: You’ve become especially known for your advocacy for the sanctity of human life. Was there a point in time when you felt impressed to speak out on that issue?
A: Much like what happened after the Facebook post, there were certain things that just gave me a platform to do so. For me, growing up there was an emphasis on life, not just pre-born life but on people in general, that we as humans bore the image of our Creator. My father, Ken Watson, really likes history, and he used to take us to Civil War battlefields sometimes. So I grew up with some understanding and awareness of history, especially black history, and I saw the dehumanization throughout American history when it came to people who were enslaved and the descendants of the enslaved. And so I started to see how that related in some ways to abortion. And for me as a black man—realizing how abortion disproportionately impacted black Americans, and discovering the complex reasons why—I wanted to be an advocate for justice.
But that wasn’t what really gave me a voice in this; it was purchasing ultrasound machines. When we had our first child in 2009, we got a 3D/4D ultrasound. And when we left, Kirsten said, “You know, one day I want to provide this for other women. I don’t know what it looks like, but I just want to have a part in letting other women see their child in-utero in 3D/4D ultrasound.” Fast forward about eight years. We were able to purchase ultrasound machines, about four or five of them, in cities where I’ve played or where we’ve lived, through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Psalm 139 Project and also through Option Ultrasound by Focus on the Family. The first one we purchased was for a pro-life pregnancy center in Baltimore. When you’re in the NFL, people start to take notice of such things. God in His providence allowed us to have that platform.
Q: In addition to the SEC Network during football season, you serve a pro-life organization called Human Coalition. Could you briefly explain your role there and what the organization seeks to do?
A: My title is vice president of relationships, so I do a lot of interfacing and connecting and sharing with people about the work of Human Coalition, which is based in Dallas but with affiliated pregnancy resource centers nationwide. So, using web-based technology, we place advertising specifically directed to abortion-determined women on the Internet. We do a lot of telehealth and telecare work as well. If an abortion-determined woman calls our call center, we are able to connect her with a local pregnancy resource center in her area and communicate to them her specific needs. So if it’s a housing or food insecurity issue, employment, counseling or whatever she may need, we’re able to help her. There’s a statistic that really stands out among the women who contact us: 76% of them would prefer to parent if only their circumstances were different.
Q: You’ve written about being pro-life and “whole-life.” What do you see a post-Roe culture requiring of Christians who are seeking to be faithful to Scripture?
A: In the last 50 years, there’s been a tremendous amount of advocacy, service, sacrifice—and persecution—for those who have stood for life. There’s a celebration that should definitely take place and has been taking place. Many people have prayed, fasted and spoken to others about this topic.
But at the same time, the factors that drive women and their men, quite frankly, to seek abortions are still there. The overturning of Roe doesn’t really change much for a woman who has housing insecurity, or for a man who is compelling his girlfriend to get an abortion because he doesn’t have a job or because he just doesn’t want to have a child. When we look at who seeks abortions, our data show it’s a woman who has at least a high school education, is 29 years old, already has a child, is either unemployed or part-time or underemployed. And a disproportionate number are ethnic minorities.
We know that wealthy women get abortions as well, but when we’re looking at the data, a disproportionate number come from communities that have languished and have not had sufficient resources.
So moving forward, those of us who are pro-life must address these issues or at least be open to having conversations about those things. Not all of us are in the halls of Congress, but we should at least be open to having that conversation and see how the two are inextricably tied together. My hope for the pro-life movement is that we seize this opportunity to possibly welcome people into the movement who have said, “You all just simply care about pre-born children. You don’t care about mothers,” and show that, “No, we care about racism that, in many cases, is still embedded in sectors of our society; we care about good education for every community, and discovering how things that may seem far removed in the past may tie in to what’s going on now.”
And so all those things are tied together; it’s a web, and it gets dicey. It gets political. It sometimes seems like “us versus them,” but hopefully the pro-life movement, moving forward, will go beyond the things we should always be doing, like providing material and spiritual support, and begin to also have brave discussions about the root causes of why most women turn to abortion.
Q: After the Damar Hamlin injury on Monday Night Football in January, you had the opportunity to be on CNN with Anderson Cooper, and you were able to briefly share the Gospel message. What role does the Gospel play in your life—how does it affect the way in which you view people from all walks of life?
A: The beauty of the Gospel and the power of the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel is like the fuel in my tank. I’m a strong advocate for justice and for compassion and for the sanctity of life. Those things are very, very important to me, but the Gospel is what propels me to do those things. The fact that God’s one and only Son died in our place lets me know the value our Creator places on people. We will live for eternity. All these things point to the value of human life. And because of that, we don’t just walk right past people, as the Pharisee did in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We don’t do that, because we know how much God values each person. We have the answer, and it’s the reason why we must address the needs of people and treat people fairly because of it. ©2023 BGEA
Interviewed by Jerry Pierce, senior editor.
Photo: Courtesy of Tyndale Publishing