Russell Wilson Talks Parents’ Influence on His Life and Foundation at Variety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast

Andrew Wallenstein and Russell WilsonVariety Sports & Entertainment Breakfast, Los Angeles, USA - 11 July 2019
Katie Jones/Variety/Shutterstock

Russell Wilson discussed how faith, hard work and the influence of his parents plays into his Why Not You Foundation at Variety’s Sports & Entertainment Breakfast Thursday in Beverly Hills.

Wilson, the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, centered much of the conversation on the role of his parents. “My parents when I was growing up, they always encouraged me. They always gave me imagination,” he said in conversation with Variety‘s co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. “[My dad] would always say to me, ‘Son, where are you at 25 years old? Paint a picture for me. What are you doing at 35?” He continued, “I had to start telling a story of what I was doing. I’d have to make it up. I would be eight, nine years old.” His father would respond, “You have to tell a better story than that.” The interaction still drives Wilson: “That created the belief that I could create or do anything I wanted to do.”

Wilson, along with his wife and singer Ciara, founded Why Not You, which is both a philanthropic foundation and production company.

Wilson went over the process of changing the name from the Russell Wilson Foundation to Why Not You. “My dad wouldn’t want this to be about me. This has nothing to do with me. I don’t want to have a foundation named after me. The legacy has to be way more than that. So I said I want to name it the Why Not You Foundation,” said Wilson. 

Wilson explained the genesis of the name “Why Not You.” “That was the fundamental question that internally I always asked myself, whether consciously or subconsciously.” He said his father would ask “why not” questions, “Why don’t you play in the NFL? Why don’t you play pro baseball? Why don’t you graduate in three years?”

Wilson realized his father’s goals with hard work and focus. In college, he would wake up at 4:20 a.m., get to the baseball field by 5 a.m., practice until class at 8 a.m., take class until 2:30 p.m., and practice until as late as 10 p.m. all while taking 18 credits a semester. He said, “That’s the level I was used to; that’s the focus that I had. I was determined to be successful in that sense. There was no other option and I think that’s the same thing now.”

Wilson values work ethic beyond the world of sports. “You have to have great people around you. You have to have people who are determined and work hard — people who are loyal, honest and accountable,” he said. 

Wilson said he asks the same of his colleagues outside of sports as he does of his teammates. “Do they have a vision?” is what he first asks in the hiring process. “I always ask my teammates this very simple question. ‘Who are you studying?’ If they don’t know who they’re studying, that’s a problem. So I ask the same question to my creative team,” he said. 

Wilson couldn’t give details on what his production company has in the works, but he mentioned an upcoming “cool animation show” and a “potential TV series.”

Wilson also credited his faith for the work he does. He recounted an incident where his father was in a coma and given 12 hours to live the night before his first college football game at NC State. He said his mother started singing to his father. “My mom has got tremendous faith,” he said. According to Wilson, his mother was able to wake up his father with her singing voice. “That’s when I really started believing in miracles and faith and belief,” he said. 

The summit also featured keynote panels on esports with Daniel Cherry, CMO of Activision Blizzard Esports, and Johanna Faries, head of “Call of Duty” Esports.

Gymnast Laurie Hernandez and ice skater Tara Lipinski joined a panel discussing the Olympics. Lon Rosen, CMO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, discussed sports marketing in another panel.