Who Is JJ Watt Off the Field? An Inside Look At His Investments, Family Life, and What He Plans to Do Next
Watt reveals if he owns Bitcoin, his most interesting startup investments, and of course, what he thinks about the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce romance.
On Dec. 27, 2022, JJ Watt, one of the one of the NFL's most well-respected defensive stars, sent the tweet that would mark the end of one chapter and signal the beginning of another. At age 33, Watt announced he would retire from the NFL after 12 seasons.
Even though football has been the dominant focus for the majority of Watt’s life, he has made a name for himself outside of the game. He earned national attention for his philanthropic efforts when he raised more than $41 million to help Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey. He dabbled in entertainment after hosting Saturday Night Live in 2020. And most importantly, he became a dad — one of the most monumental events of his life so far.
There’s a lot he has already done, so what’s left to do in retirement?
When he’s not spending time with his wife Kealia and son Koa, Watt has been trying to find ways to fill the adrenaline rush that he got every week on the football field. He’s tried golf and weightlifting, but he says, “nothing can scratch that itch” he used to get from the energy of a live audience.
Nevertheless, he has stayed busy. Since retiring, Watt has invested in Burnley Football Club, joined CBS Sports as an NFL studio analyst, and become a regular commentator on the Pat McAfee Show.
“There's plenty of things that are great about retirement — it’s tons of fun, I love it,” he said in an interview with The Profile. “But the one thing you miss is going up against the best in the world and seeing where you stack up on a weekly basis.”
Watt currently has the freedom to pursue anything he chooses, but committing to one path is proving difficult. It’s been a continuous topic of conversation between him and his wife.
“If we wanted to, we could just live a very normal life, fall off the grid, and not do anything,” he says. “Then there are other days where you're like, ‘Should I go do movies? Should I do TV? Should I really see how big we can possibly do this thing?’ It's a battle that I'm constantly fighting, trying to find the answer.”
In this wide-ranging interview, Watt discusses his next chapter — diving into the world of business, making startup investments, fighting complacency, and creating a new identity that isn’t solely tied to football.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
(Below is an excerpt, but I encourage you to listen and watch to the full interview below.)
After people have had a taste of fame and success, they start taking it for granted and stop working as hard and taking risks. How did you fight complacency after you’d had a taste of success?
WATT: I was always scared of what would happen if I didn't work that hard.
I was also very fortunate that my parents raised me that way. I mean, my mom started as a secretary of her company, and she worked her way up to become the vice president. My dad was a firefighter. They just they both worked extremely hard. So I had two good examples, and I had no ability to have any excuses. So even when all the good times came and everything was fun, they were constantly making sure that I was doing everything the right way.
Complacency kills progress. It's one of my favorite quotes. If you want to evolve, if you want to be better, if you want to improve, complacency is the No. 1 way to halt all of that.
I'm sure you've seen guys who gave into complacency during your career. When do you see it happen?
You see it at many different points. The more interesting part for me is when guys realize it.
Some guys realize it early enough and catch it to where then they change themselves to become a better player or a better competitor. But then there are guys who come back later and say, ‘Man, I wish I would have just been more disciplined.’
One thing I talk to a lot of rookies that come into the league about is, ‘Don't get caught up in the lifestyle because the lifestyle would be so much better if you play good.’ People come in, and they're so excited about everything that comes along with being an NFL player, but they forget the reason they're getting all this is because they're an NFL player and because they’re playing good.
Some guys don't realize it until it’s too late, and then they come back and they have those regrets. I think that you have to realize that the work is what created all this, and the harder you work, the more of the fun stuff you'll get.
You’ve invested in companies including Public, Future, Hyperice, Athletic Brewing, and Popup Bagels. What is your investment strategy?
It’s all about deal flow. It's all about opportunities coming across your table, and then reading through them and being able to understand the finances of it and the concepts of it to make sure that you know what you want to see as an investor.
Am I the smartest, most brilliant business mind of all time? Absolutely not. But do I know what I like and what I am comfortable investing in? Yes.
Anytime that I ever make an investment, I have the assumption that I'm going to lose every single dollar of that investment. That's just the simple way it goes. When I'm looking at opportunities that come across my desk, it's, ‘Do I believe in this enough to where I think it can be extremely successful? Yes. And also, is this a business that if I invested in it and it goes to zero, am I okay with that? Yes. And then the third piece of criteria is, Do I enjoy this? Is this something that I actually want to be a part of?’
Popup Bagels is the perfect example. I had that bagel, and I was like, ‘How do I get involved with this?’ Athletic Brewing is probably my best investment so far. I actually passed on it in their Series A round, and I got it in the Series B because I couldn't get myself on a non-alcoholic train at the beginning. I was like, ‘I grew up in Wisconsin. Everybody there drinks beer. Nobody there drinks non-alcoholic beer. Like what’s the pull here?’ So I passed on its Series A, and then the Series B came like three months later at a 3x [valuation]. So I’ve been in ever since. It’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to be a part of.
And absolutely, I've made mistakes. Early on, I didn't know what I was doing. Like I said before, you have to make mistakes to figure out what you want to do, so I've still got plenty of mistakes to make. But I'm much more focused on my investments now, and I don't take as many swings as I used to.
You talked about diversification. Do you own any bitcoin or cryptocurrencies?
I do not. No.
This is a battle that I feel like could get me into social media hell — just people coming at me on both sides.
I think it's just so speculative, and there’s just so much unknown in it, which is partially extremely exciting. It could be one of those things like the Internet back in the day where if you figured it out before everybody else and you're now a billionaire, you're laughing and saying, ‘How did you figure this out?’
But you could also be on the other side of it where it goes to nothing, and nothing happens. Like NFTs where everybody thought they were geniuses getting these NFTs, and now all of a sudden, it’s worth pennies on the dollar.
So I'm not saying that it's not going to be successful. I'm just saying that the speculative aspect of it and the lack of true knowledge of it in my space, it’s just not something I'm comfortable putting any significant amount of capital into.
Another hot topic question: Where do you stand on the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift situation? Are you surprised at all with what’s happened in terms of coverage?
No, because it's possibly literally the biggest pop star in the entire world and a multiple-time Super Bowl champion who's on a team that looks like they could potentially do it again. So I'm not surprised by it at all.
This is all an entertainment business at the end of the day. The NFL, the music industry — it's all in the entertainment business. The reason that the NFL is so successful as a multi-billion dollar enterprise is because it is entertaining to people. So it does not surprise me at all that they're leaning into it and trying to take full advantage of it.
I do think that they've tried to figure out the pendulum and where to swing it in terms of going a little too far of coverage and then swinging it back. But yeah, I don't blame them. I mean, any football purists who are like, ‘They need to just show the football,’ I'm like, ‘Well, the NFL wouldn't be the business it is if they only showed the football.’
I also think it's great that [Swift and Kelce] are embracing it. I mean, you know, doing it for whatever the reasons are, I think it's cool and fun to watch it play out publicly. Sometimes, in these relationships, people shy away from speaking about it or they're trying to always hide from it — I don't know, I think it's kind of cool. They just let it out in the open, and just have fun with it.
You retired from the NFL after a 12-year career at the end of the 2022 season. Many people who are obsessed with their craft end up tying their identity to their job title or career success. Did you have some sort of existential identity crisis?
It happened probably more around the first game or the first couple games.
I remember I was talking to my brother [TJ Watt] as he was getting ready to get on the bus and go to the stadium for a game. And when I sat there, I thought about my pregame meal, the music that I would play, getting on the bus, and the emotions that I would feel — those are the only times where I'm like, ‘I do miss that part of it.’ But then I wake up on Monday morning, and my body feels great, and I'm not dealing with the mental anguish of either playing bad or losing the game or whatever it may be. So I don't miss that at all.
At least for me, your identity does become tied to it. It's just the reality. I've been playing football since I was in fifth grade. I started skating and playing hockey when I was three years old. I've been an athlete my entire life — literally my entire life — and scoring goals in hockey, or getting sacks in football, or whatever it may be, that was a way of validation that everything that I was working toward was paying off.
So now to not have anything like that in my life, it certainly is an adjustment to make. Even in the off-seasons, I was training for the season. At every point throughout the entire year, there was something that I was getting ready for. Now, I'm just living life.
I think my wife and son really, really helped. If I was just retiring, and I didn't have my family, I would be in a really, really tough spot because I don't know what I would do. I wouldn't know what to do with myself. I would try and find ways to fill that void. But every single morning when I wake up, I see my son, I take him for a walk, and I don't care that I'm not playing football. I don't care about scoring a touchdown. I don't care about a sack. All I care about is him smiling.
In 2015, you said, “At the end of the day, that's all it is — it's a game. And sometimes I'll sit there and think, ’In 50 years, is anybody gonna care? Is anybody gonna care how hard I worked? Is anybody gonna care that I woke up at 3:45 in the morning to work out?’ How do you answer those questions today?
I just had this conversation yesterday with one of my former teammates who is still playing. He was talking about a tough time he's going through, the team's not being successful, and he’s not playing as well as he’d like.
And he was like, ‘It just weighs on me so heavy.’ I told him, ‘This is something that I didn't learn fully until I retired.’
So last weekend, I was sitting in New York in the CBS studio, and we have all 10 games on at the same time. We have all the screens going, and we're kind of watching and we point out the touchdown or the big plays, but all the other plays, we can’t watch them all. I mean, there’s 10 — you can’t see every game. Then we do the recaps of the games, and we just show the touchdowns and the highlights.
And I told him, ‘You're sitting there the next day, and you're thinking about that one play that you missed, or that one tackle that you missed, or the ball you dropped. Nobody else in the world is thinking about that.’
We put so much mental stress on ourselves — which is what makes us great — but the reality of it is that the rest of the world isn't thinking about it as much as we are. So let it go. Move on to the next one, and be as good as you can be on the next one.
So I don't think in 50 years, anybody's going to care one bit about anything that we did [on the football field]. But like I've said throughout this whole interview and what I've learned, my son will care about me spending time with him.
I saw a great thing the other day that was talking about someone on their death bed, and they were like, ‘Who are the people at their side?’ And it was literally just their son, their grandson, and their wife. At the end of the day, the only people with you at the end of this entire ride are going to be your family and maybe maybe your closest friends. So don’t care what anyone else thinks, those are the ones that matter.