The 40th annual Ed Block Courage Awards were held on Saturday night at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Baltimore. One player from every NFL team was nominated by his teammates to receive this prestigious award that honors those with great courage when overcoming adversity on and off the field.

Not all 32 recipients could be in attendance for Saturday’s annual ceremony but those who did make the trip were welcomed by a large group of friends, family and fans for a day of celebration. Some of the days festivities included a silent auction and an autograph session with this years class of award recipients.

The highlight of the evening though was when all the recipients took the stage and officially received their awards. The large audience in attendance gave many standing ovations to the players who have sacrificed so much just to be where they are today.

Ravens tight end Ben Watson is one of those players. After being signed by Baltimore in 2016, Watson was eagerly looking forward to the challenges that come with playing for a new team. The 37-year-old has been in the league for 14 years with four different teams but what he experienced in the Ravens third preseason game of 2016 would change his career in a matter of seconds.

Watson lined up with the offense for the very first snap of the Ravens preseason game against the Detroit Lions. With the pressure of trying to impress a brand new group of teammates, coaches and fans, Watson pushed off the line ready to make in impact. Instead of sprinting down the field for his route, the tight end collapsed to the turf and had to be helped off the field. During his acceptance speech on Saturday, Watson says he knew exactly what had happened as soon as he hit the ground; a torn Achilles.

“Tearing my Achilles and not being able to play the first year in Baltimore with such expectations for myself was very difficult,” said Watson. “But I am honored to be a part of this organization and for them to vote for me for this award is really humbling.”

As an aging player in a young mans league Watson was working against many forces when he made his eventual comeback, but in 2017 all of that hard work paid off and the veteran tight end was able to make a big impact on the Ravens offense. Watson led the team in receptions and finished second in receiving yards while being a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco.

“My goal this year was to just make it on the field,” said Watson. “Then continuing to be able to contribute to the team and stay relatively healthy was definitely a blessing.”

Making that comeback in 2017 was extremely important for Watson but he will be remembered long after the game is over for his efforts off the field. Like many other players in attendance on Saturday, Watson has been a very active member of his community and continues to go above and beyond to help everyone around him.

In 2008 Watson and his wife Kirsten started the One More Foundation, which has allowed them to help others by meeting real needs, promoting education, and providing enrichment opportunities through charitable initiatives. These efforts were recognized not long ago when Watson was named one of the finalists for the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Before joining the Ravens, Watson was known around the league as a very vocal and passionate voice. He has appeared on national news multiple times to discuss political issues that are important to him and continues to do so today. Over the past few years more professional athletes have taken a stand for a variety of issues they believe in, often sparking a debate in the process.

With phrases like “stick to sports” and “shut up and dribble” being thrown toward these players, veterans like Watson have kept their head down and continued to lead by example in a divisive climate.

“Although your occupation is to play football, that doesn’t define totally who you are,” said Watson. “These guys are husbands, fathers, voters, citizens and more importantly they are Americans.” The Ravens tight end went on to say that his fellow players all have a voice and opinions that are unique to them. “I encourage these young guys to be the best player that you can be because that is your occupation, but also find something else that you are passionate about and be willing to stand for that.”

You can listen to the full audio of our interview with Ben Watson here: 

Image Credit: Nolan McGraw / Charm City Bird Watch