In retired Saints tight end Ben Watson's push to help rebuild three historically black Louisiana churches recently burned to the ground by an arsonist, a big name from Baltimore has joined the cause.
Steve Bisciotti -- the billionaire owner of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens -- had pledged a $100,000 for the churches. Watson, a well-documented activist and philanthropist, shared the news earlier this week that
Watson has been one of the leaders of the charge that has already helped raise more than $2 million in a groundswell of support.
Donors raised more than $1.6 million in roughly 36 hours to support the three historically black Baptist churches destroyed by arson in St. La…
Watson said he is "thankful for his willingness to help others," in a tweet detailing the call he received from Bisciotti on Sunday.
Watson played four of his 14 seasons for the New Orleans Saints in his career, the final coming in 2018 before he announced his retirement from the NFL.
The three churches — St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Opelousas — burned down between March 26 and April 4.
Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Holden Matthews in the case, who has been charged with two counts of simple arson, one count of aggravated arson and three counts of hate crimes.
Watson had previously told The Advocate he quickly reached out to pastors at the affected churches earlier this month.
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"In speaking with these pastors I am in awe and inspired by their faith and courage, comforting their congregations and family members," he said in a text message to The Advocate.
"Through sadness and shock they spoke of forgiveness for the arsonist and grace for tomorrow. Most importantly, they spoke of being overwhelmed by support from people of goodwill and all religions from around the country. And they were humbled by what God has already done through this series of events."
Bisciotti's donation, while one of the largest, is just part of a massive humanitarian campaign to raise money for the churches since the news of their destruction.
Ben Watson retired this offseason.
The GoFundMe campaign hosted by the Seventh District Baptist Association, a coalition of Baptist churches that includes the three destroyed churches had easily surpassed its goal of $1.8 million in just nine days. More than 37,500 had contributed to the still-growing total as of Friday morning, just short of $2.04 million by 8:30 a.m.
The largest donation in the campaign so far was a $50,000 gift from philanthropist Robert Smith, according to journalist Yashar Ali, who authored a Twitter thread promoing the campaign that has gone viral. A billionaire philanthropist, Smith was named the wealthiest black American by Forbes in 2018.
Smith was followed by a $20,000 donation in the name of Chrissy Teigen from an account under the name Izabela Sloma -- the same name of the founder of a Chicago-based real estate group. Teigen retweeted Ali's thread to her following of more than 11 million earlier in the week.
Entrepreneur and donor Susie Tompkins Buell also agreed to donate $5,000 for every $50,000 donated up to a total of $25,000, according to Ali.
Local businesses and organizations have also pledged support. IberiaBank announced Tuesday it would donate $6,000. Giles Automotive started a Giles Give Back campaign to help raise money over 30 days, and said it would match donations up to $50,000.
Public figures like actress Kristin Davis, actress and talk show host Busy Philipps, late night host Seth Meyers and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro were among the early donors.
The GoFundMe campaign does not list Bisciotti's donation, though it was not specified how his donation was planned to be made. The owner of the Ravens since 2000, the 59-year-old has a background of charity toward the Catholic church. He is a board member for both Catholic Charities and Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore.
The Rev. Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, said earlier this week that watching the GoFundMe meter rise has been incredible.
“I’m just thankful for people responding as they are to meet the needs of these three pastors,” Jack said. “It feels awesome to know that people you’ve never met, never had a conversation with, are calling you and telling you who they are and offering to help. From the east to the west they’re reaching out and contributing to our needs.”
Information from The Advocate's Rod Walker and Katie Gagliano was used in this report.