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Former Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt responded to a tweet from Brazosport High School teacher Jennifer Simpson and donated money to help cover the cost of her late grandfather’s funeral expenses.

FREEPORT — JJ Watt gave Freeport resident and Brazosport ISD teacher Jennifer Simpson a reason to believe there are still good people in the world.

Preparing to go to bed one night and still mourning the unexpected death of her grandfather, Jerry Roderick, a month after he passed, Simpson was desperate to find any way to raise money to cover her grandfather’s funeral expenses.

She was so desperate that she hit the “tweet” button on her cell phone to sell a pair of Houston Texans shoes and a jersey donning her most beloved player’s name and number.

Then the former Houston Texan pass rusher swooped in for the play of a lifetime.

“It’s been crazy,” Simpson said. “It’s not about just JJ stepping up; there are different people that I don’t even know stepping up and asking, ‘How can I help you? What do you need?’ Different things like that.

“It has been different emotions from so many different people.”

Simpson’s grandfather

Roderick had seven children, 21 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He had a series of health issues and died from cardiac arrest while staying at an assisted living facility in Houston, Roderick’s daughter, Tara, said in a story posted on Houston Public Media.

He died June 20 at age 73.

Since his death, Roderick’s body has been at Brookside Funeral Home & Memorial Park, and his family was hit with an $18,000 balance to cover his funeral, Simpson said. It was a balance too difficult for them to handle.

Brookside representatives have said they want the money upfront since the beginning and set a three-week deadline, and the two sides would reconvene to see how much the family had left to pay, Simpson said. However, they were nowhere near their goal when the deadline approached, Simpson said.

“I don’t know how long they will hold his body, and we asked them if they would work with us,” Simpson said. “Can we have the funeral paid later? Can we do a payment plan? And they said, ‘No, we do not do payment plans or anything like that. We will continue to hold his body, but we need a date when you will have the money.’

“And that is what they have kept telling us so they can plan a date for the funeral, but we can’t give them a date because we were probably going to plan it for months.”

Moving to another funeral home was not an option because Brookside is where Roderick wanted to be buried next to his family members that preceded him.

Nonetheless, Roderick’s loved ones have made progress.

The tweet

Simpson was already a huge fan of Watt. The Texans supporter still followed the Pewaukee, Wisconsin, native after he left Houston and is in his second year with the Arizona Cardinals.

“He is my favorite player, and he still is my favorite player,” Simpson said. “I have always loved what he has done off the field. He has always inspired me.

“If JJ did not step up, we would probably be doing this for months.”

The family had tried for more than a month to raise money to pay for Roderick’s funeral. Simpson has posted items for sale and other fundraising efforts on Facebook. With little luck, Simpson turned to Twitter to reach out to more fans of JJ Watt in hopes someone would want his memorabilia.

She tweeted, “I have a pair of @JJWatt women’s edition of Reebok shoes size 9 $60. I’ve worn them twice. They are great shoes, I’m only selling because we are raising money for my grandpa’s funeral. I also have a Watt womens XL Texans Jersey $30. Anyone interested?”

“There might be a fan out there — even though he does not play for the Texans anymore — maybe someone will want his jersey as a collection,” she said. “I’ll take it to Twitter to sell it for cheap just to get money going for this funeral fund.

“I put @JJWatt just in case someone was searching for JJ.”

Watt tweeted a response to Simpson 20 minutes later, she said.

“Don’t sell your shoes and jersey, we’ll help with the funeral. I’m sorry for you loss,” Watt tweeted back.

Simpson usually is asleep well before 10 p.m. but was up that night to see Watt’s retweet.

“For whatever reason, I was up that night, and I was in shock,” Simpson said. “I thought, ‘Am I tired and just seeing things? Is this legit? Did he just tweet me on this and say he is going to help me?’”

Simpson screenshot the tweet and sent it to her aunt, who is in charge of the funeral fund, she said. That’s when it sunk in that Watt’s response and offer to help was real.

“I’m not an emotional person, but I was shaking and crying. Somebody so big would help a family so small that he doesn’t even know us,” Simpson said.

The aftermath

Watt wasted no time helping the family.

He transferred money over via PayPal, Simpson said. Although it wasn’t enough to cover the entire expense — he was not sure how much was needed, Simpson said — it was a start the Roderick family desperately needed and has since made an impact as more people have come forward to help.

“It took a huge weight off our shoulders,” Simpson said. “I was able to call it in the next morning and get that paid down.

“But he also helped by tweeting because a bunch of other people who don’t even know us or know our story now want to help. We have collected a lot of money and donations to put toward the funeral and to bury my grandfather.”

The family has chosen not to disclose the amount Watt sent to them because they were unsure if he would be comfortable having that made public, Simpson said. However, with Watt’s help and more people coming forward with about $4,000 in donations, the once insurmountable $18,000 bill dwindled to about $5,000 since the tweet. A GoFundMe account has been set up at gofundme.com/f/cab77a-jerry-Roderick-funeral-services to help cover the remaining funeral expenses.

The last 48 hours or so have been a whirlwind for the Texans fan, between her posts of sincere appreciation for her favorite player to answering calls by media members wanting to get the scoop on the story. Once the smoke settles, there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel for the family to have the closure they deserve and a final resting place for Roderick.

“It has been a tremendous blessing,” Simpson said. “It seems like, especially with social media being so big now, you see more bad in the world, but this has proven that there is so much good in the world. We don’t notice it, but behind the scenes, there is a lot of good in the world, and he brought that to light.”

Jake Dowling is a sports writer for The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-0161 or at jake.dowling@thefacts.com

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I don't understand why the life insurance company wouldn't cover the burial expenses.

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