There are so many potential starting points for a story about Matt Hasselbeck.
You might begin with the once widely held (and incorrect) notion that his younger brother, Tim, would displace him as the starting quarterback at Boston College when Tim matriculated there in the late 1990s. Matt, after all, was no All-American.
The story could start with Matt’s first days in pro football, when he was thoroughly convinced the Green Bay Packers acquired him to essentially give their real quarterbacks a break during training camp.
Maybe it kicks off with that time he told a referee during a coin flip, “We want the ball – and we’re gonna score.” In the Super Bowl.
And you could certainly start with Hasselbeck’s current status as the 40-year old, undefeated starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, enjoying a 3-0 record in relief of injured Andrew Luck.
Thing is, none of those entry points is appropriate for this story.
See, this is not the story of Matt Hasselbeck, NFL quarterback. Instead, this is a story about a devoted husband and father. It is a story about a committed philanthropist, one who defines that role as “doer” and not just “donor.” And it’s the story of a man of faith, one who literally practices what he preaches.
This is the story of Matt Hasselbeck, the man.
This part of the story begins in a home for lepers in Kingston, Jamaica.
How Matt Hasselbeck came to find himself there, he’s still not entirely sure. He went there as a college student, part of a mission trip organized by some of the clergy at Boston College.
“I ended up going on the trip not because I wanted to go, but because I couldn’t think of a good excuse,” Hasselbeck says now. “I’m dead serious. I mentioned it to the football coaches that I was thinking about doing this, and they said, ‘Well, you’re not allowed to go.’ But I was a punk kid from Boston, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah? Well I’m gonna apply anyway.’ ”
The horrors that confronted him were not something Hasselbeck was fully prepared for, seeing first-hand a disease that disfigures its victims. But Hasselbeck would not return with regret. In fact, his emotions could not have been more different.
“Seeing things like that makes you say, ‘This is unacceptable. We need to do something,'” Hasselbeck said. “I know we went down there to help them, but it helped me more than it helped them. I would say that’s when it started.”
That’s when the fire was lit. That’s the moment Hasselbeck stopped living for himself and, conversely, began finding his purpose in helping others.
In the years since, service and charity have become an integral part of Hasselbeck’s life and that of his wife, Sarah.
“They are the rare family that genuinely believes that they have been given this big platform for a reason, and they’ve taken advantage of that around the globe,” said Jaclynn Shearer, who runs the pro athlete department for International Justice Mission (IJM). The Hasselbecks have been intimately involved for years with the organization whose mission is to fight, among other things, human trafficking in the developing world.
“It’s just hard not to do something,” Hasselbeck said. “Whether it’s (trafficking) or the orphan problem around the world. There’s 139 million orphans around the world. That’s way too many. There’s actually human trafficking. It’s not something that’s fun to talk about. But how can you not do something? And what’s awesome to see is that we’re making progress. I mean, the big thing is that people just don’t know. That was a big thing for me. I just didn’t know.”
Shearer helped educate the Hasselbecks. She has known them for 13 years through her past employment with the NFL Players Association (Hasselbeck is on the executive committee), but after going to work for IJM, she knew the organization’s work would appeal to their giving nature. Still, Shearer treaded lightly. Given their reputation, the Hasselbecks are constantly approached for help with various causes. This, however, was right in the Hasselbecks’ wheelhouse.
“We didn’t even have a pro athlete department back then,” Shearer said, “but I knew if I got Matt and Sarah to hear the story, they would want to do something and get involved. I mean, we literally rescue girls from brothels. It’s stuff no one wants to hear.”
But the Hasselbecks did. And they immediately heeded the message. They ultimately held a major fundraiser in Nashville, where Hasselbeck was playing for the Tennessee Titans, raising more money than any other benefit the organization had ever staged.
Hasselbeck was the first pro athlete IJM worked with but, as the staff has learned, he’s not only a supporter but a wonderful evangelist for their message. Within a year, the pro athlete program had raised $1.5 million, largely due to Hasselbeck imploring others to get involved. Three years later, there are more than two dozen athletes – mostly NFL players – working on behalf of IJM.
“And we have clients who will know freedom for the first time because of it,” Shearer said.
This part of the story begins in Norfolk, Mass. That is where the three Hasselbeck brothers were molded into the men they’ve become.
They’ve always been a tight-knit group. Had no choice, really. When Matt and his brothers were growing up and their father, Don, was an NFL tight end, the family was exiled to the cities in which their father played. Mostly, that was the Boston area, where Don spent eight seasons with the New England Patriots.
So, while they would have loved to gather with family back in Ohio during the holidays, they had to make do with each other.
“It’s always been about family with us,” says Tim Hasselbeck, himself a former NFL quarterback and now an ESPN analyst. “My parents were high school sweethearts. And in Massachusetts, we didn’t have extended family around. It was just us. On Thanksgiving or Christmas, you just hoped dad didn’t have a game.”
Don and Betsy Hasselbeck have been married for more than 40 years. They created a nurturing environment for their boys, who have carried that on to their own families. Theirs was the kind of family where sons wanted nothing more than to be just like their dad.
“How’d we end up playing football?” Tim said. “It’s because of our dad. If our dad had been a cop, we’d probably all be cops.”
Eventually, Don and Betsy sent their boys off to college. And that’s when Sarah came into Matt’s life. Well, for the sake of accuracy, scratch that: he actually forced his way into hers.
During class registration, Matt literally looked over Sarah’s shoulder and copied her class schedule, fulfilling his stated goal of making sure he was in classes where there was at least one pretty girl. His stalking paid off. The two have been married 15 years now.
It’s rare to hold a conversation of any length with Matt without the topics of Sarah or their three kids eventually being raised. Matt is a hockey dad to son Henry with a particular soft spot for daughters Annabelle and Mallory. Like the Hasselbecks were during Matt’s youth, his own family is tight, too. It’s why the thought of them staying behind in Nashville, where the kids were in school and had strong ties, after he signed with the Colts in 2013, was “non-negotiable,” Tim says.
“And if you talk to Sarah,” he added, “I think she would say it’s also non-negotiable. They made that a priority.”
Besides, if they were to be apart, who would put Matt through detailed debriefings after games, something he says Sarah does on a weekly basis.
“She knows,” Matt said. “After a game, she’ll ask me, ‘What happened on this interception? And what happened on that interception?’ And she knows what she’s talking about. If we were in a game where we’re down 13 points and it feels like we can’t do anything, I know what she’d say: ‘Hey, be a leader, step up, get these guys going!’ Something like that.”
The Hasselbeck family has come full circle. Just as football brought it closer years ago in Massachusetts, it’s doing so again. Matt’s recent success has made Sundays a joy once more. The family gathered during last weekend’s win over the Atlanta Falcons to celebrate a grandmother’s birthday. A Colts win was better than any gift anyone could have purchased. They’re finding that the next generation of Hasselbecks is now also finding joy in football, just as the previous two have.
“After the win against Houston,” Tim said, “my kids went to school the next day saying, ‘My uncle just beat the Texans, and J.J. Watt didn’t sack him one time!'”
This part of the story begins on a winding road to a remote village in Malawi, Africa. It is a country where roughly half the population lives below the poverty line. In some regions, basic necessities are lacking. Chief among them: Clean drinking water.
When the most basic substance needed for human sustenance is in short supply, hope can be also. The next time you casually crack open a bottle of Dasani, think about this.
That’s the kind of outlook Hasselbeck ties to maintain.
“I’ve always tried to be less selfish,” he said. “That’s a daily prayer for me. Be less selfish, be more humble. And I probably fail at both miserably. But that’s always been a thing with me.”
Being less selfish resulted in him traveling down that road in a rickety vehicle to a place few from the Western world ever see. In partnership with the organization Charity: Water, Hasselbeck traveled there to see where his efforts were being directed. But this wouldn’t be like Jamaica. This time, Matt took Sarah and the kids. But the result was, effectively, the same as Jamaica. The givers again ended up on the receiving end.
The villagers gave the Hasselbecks and their group a hero’s welcome, complete with a parade and singing. When they left, they showed gratitude in the best way they knew how: They gave them… a live chicken.
Still, why go? It would be so much easier to write a check – and the Hasselbecks do that on a regular basis. But why not just get involved from afar?
“This place was very remote,” said Kaitlyn Jankowski of Charity: Water, who also made the journey. “It is not glamorous. In fact, there’s a great chance you’ll get sick.”
But writing a check is hardly as rewarding as seeing the work in person. Witnessing their blond-haired kids playing with kids from a vastly different world and who speak a different language is not an experience that could be gained back home. Watching son Henry teach them to play football is not a memory that will soon fade.
The Hasselbecks had been supporters of the charity for years, but their level of involvement has continued to grow. The trip to Malawi was a natural progression.
“They have given to our organization at really, really significant levels,” Jankowski said. “I probably wouldn’t even have a job here if it wasn’t for Matt and Sarah. But they’re an anomaly because they never, ever move on. And they do so much privately that no one even knows about.
“The trip was such an amazing experience. And they just really embraced it.”
As if to prove the point that they never “move on,” one of Hasselbeck’s daughters shared with her teacher at Park Tudor School a video she’d filmed while on the trip. That set in motion a small movement here at home.
“The teacher said, ‘Wow, this is amazing,'” Matt recalled. “Well, that teacher showed it to another teacher and she said the same thing, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ They decided to do a ‘Water Week’ at their school. So, just the middle school did this for a week – and the kids did it all on their own – they sold water, did whatever they could, and they (funded) a well in Africa for a community of 400 people for about 20 years. They raised a little more than $10,000.”
It was yet another example of the Hasselbecks having an impact on those around them – even when they never intended to.
This part of the story begins with a Bible verse that changed everything for Matt.
In 1 Peter 3:15, it says, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
This was thought-provoking for Hasselbeck.
“I went to church because I grew up going to church,” he said. “… I went through high school, went through college, was a pretty good kid, but I didn’t really know why I believed what I believed. People would say, ‘Well, how do you know?’ I’d be like, ‘Well, that’s what I was taught,’ or, ‘I think that’s what it says in the Bible.’ I really didn’t know.”
Taking the scripture to heart, Matt set out to learn more.
“So the mindset that I have now is, just know why you believe what you believe,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m right. I really believe it and I have a strong faith. But if anyone asks me, I at least want to have an answer. So, why do I believe? Because, for one, here’s who the disciples were before they met Jesus. And here’s who they were after. I mean, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But I believe.
“And along the way, be a good friend, be honest, be unselfish, be a good teammate. It’s what you should do anyway.”
This part of Matt’s life is central because it is the driving force behind every other aspect. If you want to know the basis for Matt’s burning desire to help others, why he goes to extreme lengths to fulfill his role as a father while balancing his demanding job as a quarterback, it is all an extension of his faith. Sometimes, he tells others about it. But oftentimes they wind up asking him.
“If you look around the locker room and say, ‘What do I want to be someday,’ you look at a guy like Matt,” Colts tight end Coby Fleener said. “You look at him and say, ‘That’s what I want.’ You look at his family and you say, ‘That’s what I want in my marriage.’ And you dig deeper and then kind of ask why does it look the way it does? Well, you point to his faith and his grounding in Christianity and from there it branches out to everything else.”
Team chaplain Eric Simpson, who leads a weekly Bible study after practice on Thursdays, put it this way: “I think the people around Matt respect him for who he is as a person… And I think Jesus was a lot like that.”
There’s never any pretense. Whether helping bring drinking water to Malawi, hanging out with lepers in Jamaica or just whipping the boat around the lake at the family’s vacation home in Washington state, he’s always the same guy. Dad. Benefactor. Teammate. Friend.
You’ve seen the impact he’s had on the field this season, helping the Colts stay afloat in Luck’s absence.
But to those children in East Africa, to the teammates’ whose lives he’s touched, to his own kids who have absorbed the invaluable lessons he’s taught, those on-field contributions pale in comparison to the far-reaching impact Hasselbeck has in just about every other area of his life.