As Marlin Jackson wakes up, puts on his shoes, and prepares for his day, it’s not to be on a football field. After playing football at the University of Michigan, being drafted in the first round to the Indianapolis Colts, and winning a super bowl, it would seem that Jackson has reached all of his dreams. He was a First-Team All-Big Ten player, an All-American, and a Super Bowl champion. But Marlin Jackson has dreams off the field, too.
Jackson grew up in what most would call a troubled childhood environment. He was surrounded by drugs, alcohol, emotional neglect, and with no mother or father present for guidance. It was only by the grace of God that Jackson says he made it out of this negative environment and into the limelight. But, rather than using his NFL fame for personal gain or attention, he turns back to his past by creating the Fight For Life Foundation.
“My childhood is the direct influence of the birth of Fight For Life,” Jackson said, “I know first hand what it’s like to have no direction.”
Jackson started the Fight For Life Foundation in 2007 in order to help inner city and low income youth. The foundation has programs such as the Field of Dreams program, Fight For Life Football Academy, and the Be A Blessing fundraiser during the holiday’s.
“Through incentive based programs we hope to inspire children to reach all their hopes and dreams,” Jackson said, “We also encourage students to live a healthy and physically active lifestyle through athletics.”
The Field of Dreams program, the main program at Fight For Life, is a 26 week education incentive character development program that reaches out to middle-school students.
In honor of his number at Indianpolis, 28, the kids in the program have 28 markers, 28 footballs, and throughout the course of the school year can move forward five yards for good behaviors in the classroom and community. If they are practicing negative behaviors they move backwards. The students earn prizes throughout the year as an incentive for doing the right thing.
Jackson utilizes an abundance of qualities he was taught during his time at the University of Michigan during this program.
“Michigan helped me begin to trust, persevere, the importance of morals, and how to have respect for myself and others,” Jackson said.
On his time at Michigan, Jackson adds, “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without Michigan. Whether it was in the classroom, practice field, Michigan Stadium, or around campus, my experience at Michigan was eye-opening and changed my view of the world.”
After moving past college and into the NFL, Jackson had new challenges to face.
“Learning how to be a responsible adult as well as a professional football player was a process,” Jackson said. “Falling, getting back up, learning a lesson, and becoming stronger,” was what the process was like for him.
Indianapolis was the perfect place for Jackson to blossom in both of these realms because of his head coach, Tony Dungy.
“Not only was he the perfect coach for me to play for, but more importantly he was the best man for me to play for,” explained Jackson, “As a young man I needed guidance, and that’s exactly what coach Dungy provided for the team.”
Dungy spoke of the importance of being not only great football players, but great men as well. Many athletes fall into a world of ungratefulness and self-honoring once they make it big. They buy expensive cars, multiple houses, and rarely mingle with “the public.” More importantly, they forget about their past, or worse, run from it. But not Marlin.
“I’m always connected to my past, I can never forget where I came from,” he said. “I’m proud of every struggle and triumph I’ve had in life.”
Jackson mentions the song “Kingdom Come” by rapper Jay-Z as one that touches him deeply. “I’m from the bottom / so I still feel it from the bottom,” the lyrics read.
“I came from humble beginnings,” adds Jackson, “In society, no matter how far I make it, I will always feel issues from my beginnings, they allow me to relate to those who have to struggle in life.”
Field of Dreams isn’t the only program that Fight For Life recognizes though. They also have a program called “R.A.P.,” Reach out and Access your Peers, which is built on self-exploration among high school students. They host youth and high school football camps called “Seal the Deal” where kids are encouraged to “make big plays on and off the field.” And there’s also a holiday toy drive and field trips in the “Be a Blessing” program. When asked what he is most proud of about the organization Jackson replied,
“I’m most proud of the vision and passion God has placed in my heart to help those who are less fortunate. To give children who seem to have no chance, a fighting chance to make the most of life.”
Although Jackson’s days on the field are over, his days of serving and loving his community are not. His life after football includes his wife, their soon-to-be son, and the development of the Fight For Life Foundation.
Follow Fight For Life on Twitter: @Fight4LifeFound
or visit their website: www.fightforlifefoundation.org