THE INCREASE: What's Next? - Benjamin Watson

Coming back is never easy. Entering back into the league this year after coming off an Achilles injury, I didn’t really know if I’d be able to play. But being on the field and playing all 16 games was a huge blessing. We had an up and down season from start to finish. We had a chance to make the playoffs and things were looking up, only to have our season come to an abrupt end when we lost against the Bengals in the last week.

But this season was an important one. In retrospect, I see the enormous value of the opportunity I was given to be in the locker room for one more year to influence and engage with my younger teammates. Every year it seems that the locker room is getting younger and younger, but then I realize I’m getting older and older. When I have conversations with the younger guys, I realize the influence I’m able to have on them simply because I’ve been in the league for so long.

About a month ago before it was announced, I was in the locker room when the community relations team told me I had been nominated by the Ravens organization to receive the Man of the Year Award. I was really surprised, humbled and excited. Only having been there for two years, the first of which I couldn’t even play, I was not expecting this at all. But when they told me it was because of what my family and I had been doing in the community and overseas — leading trips for players in the league to do ministry, and because of my leadership and influence on the team — I was completely honored. I really appreciate it. I immediately told my wife, Kirsten, who was so proud, then called my parents, who outright shouted at me on the phone. Soon after, I was honored with the team’s Ed Block Courage Award as well!

This season has been one filled with gratitude for me. I clearly remember one point last season when I was sitting in the training room, unable to stand on my own feet, watching as the leaves were changing colors and my teammates were practicing on the field. I wanted to be out there so badly. This year, I was able to experience that same moment, but this time I was on the field, soaking in the fresh, crisp fall air, watching the autumn leaves falling, while training with my teammates. Even though there were times when I didn’t really want to be out there training, I was filled with gratitude. “Wow, Lord,” I thought. “Thank You for allowing me to be out here with the team, able to run around, breathe in the fresh air, enjoy the season, and play football!”

This year, I’ve been continually reminding myself to be grateful for every season, every game, every moment, every conversation, every laugh that we have in the locker room, and every opportunity I have to pour into other guys. Because everyone needs something, someone. I try to be available to be a person who can give advice, a listening ear, a word of encouragement or a shoulder to cry on.

Baltimore still feels a little new for me and it’s already over. My two-year contract came and went so quickly and we don’t know what’s next for us yet. I’ve probably played my last game of football in the NFL. I haven’t made a 100-percent decision whether or not I’ll play again, but I’m open to where the Lord will lead me and my family next. The coming months will include speaking engagements, charity events and finishing up our boys’ schooling in Baltimore. And then after that, we don’t know. One thing we’ve always said is that God opens doors and He closes doors. My prayer is that He flings one wide open and slams one (or several) shut. My prayer is for clarity.

Reading through the Psalms lately, I’m reminded that our God is faithful to provide and direct our paths. I read that our Lord is our Rock and our Salvation (Psalm 18:2). I read about the heavens telling of the glory of the Lord (Psalm 19:1). I’m reminded that though some boast of chariots, we boast in the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7). Verse after verse shows David — a man after God’s own heart — crying out to God, acknowledging that He is the One who sets our paths and guides are steps. We can trust in Him because of His faithfulness.

As I move into a season of uncertainty — deciding if my career in the NFL continues, whether or not to move into a new career and what that might be, and where we should live — I realize that I could try to answer all these questions by myself. But instead I need to turn to a God who knows everything and cares about every aspect. He has proven over and over again his faithfulness, love and provision for those who trust in Him.

Benjamin Watson, Baltimore Ravens tight end

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