As a bonafide student of the game, Rams running back
Jackson can rattle off a group of backs he enjoyed watching as a youngster though he claims no definitive favorite. He can quickly give you a thumbnail bio on just about any back in league history and knows many of their statistics by heart.
But Jackson’s knowledge of those that have come before him isn’t limited to what they did on the field.
That’s why, when he was informed that he was the Rams’ 2012 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, it meant more to him than it would to many others.
For Jackson will hold any chance to be mentioned in the same breath as Payton in the highest regard.
“It means a lot,” Jackson said. “It’s one of the main reasons why I try each and every day to make sure that I’m a stand-up citizen, that I’m professional on and off the field and that I carry myself in a way that is a positive reflection of my family and the Rams organization. I think Walter Payton is a great example for any and all athletes in how you can represent yourself in your profession and then in your community. I’m a huge fan of Walter Payton. To even be nominated for the award, it means a lot to me.”
Each year, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is chosen from a pool of 32 finalists, with one representative selected from each of the league’s franchises. The award is unique in that it is awarded to a player for a combination of outstanding community service and excellence on the football field.
Past recipients of the award include some of the game’s all-time greats such as John Elway, Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas and many more.
While the mere possibility of Jackson joining that list is exciting enough for him, he’s certainly done enough in the St. Louis community and on the field to earn such an esteemed award.
“One of the great things about Steven is that he approaches his work in the community with the same passion as he approaches his work on the field – and that says a lot as we all know there may not be a more passionate guy on the field,” said Molly Higgins, vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs, St. Louis Rams. “We could not ask for a better ambassador for this organization and community. We are proud to have the opportunity to nominate him for this prestigious award.”
In 2012, Jackson, who has always been active in the community, was as busy improving the lives of area youth as ever before even if he’s a bit bashful about sharing the details.
“I do a number of things,” Jackson said. “Some things I hate to share because you never want somebody to feel like you’re doing things to get recognition for what it is out of the goodness and the kindness of my heart.”
Higgins said Jackson is the type of person who appreciates his unique opportunity to impact one person to thousands of people.
“During the season, I was made aware of a young man who is a huge fan of Steven and currently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said Higgins. “We sent an autographed item to help lift his spirits, but I also mentioned it to Steven and his sister, Rhonda, who oversees his SJ39 Foundation. The next week we received word from the young man’s dad that Steven dropped by the hospital to visit him. He did it totally under the radar without any cameras or publicity. That’s the kind of guy Steven is and I think it speaks volumes about his character.”
On a larger scale, Jackson and his SJ39 Foundation recently took on a new endeavor teaming up with the Little Bit Foundation, a St. Louis organization focused on creating a more focused and active learning environment for children in the most underserved areas of St. Louis by providing basic educational needs through relationships with local schools.
The tag team of Jackson’s foundation and the Little Bit Foundation go into different schools around the city and provide needed supplies for children ranging from food to backpacks to school supplies to clothes.
“They go in and started helping these young people being able to not worry about the outside things that they can’t control, but it allows them to feel confident about themselves and want to learn,” Jackson said. “It goes a long way. I love the name because a little bit does go a long way for some people.”
Jackson also works with a group called Covenant House, a place where young people in transition can go to finish their G.E.D., earn their high school diploma or simply receive guidance toward a career and a way of life.
Covenant House gives those young people a chance by providing mentors and resources to help them reach their goals.
“These young people just need a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen to them to help motivate them as well in life,” Jackson said.
And again this year for the third time, Jackson will join with the Rams and the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis to host “Motion for Kids/39 Wishes,” a program that annually provides more than 3,000 children with the opportunity to have a real, full-fledged Christmas celebration complete with gifts.
“We want these kids to know that they’re loved and thought of, and that Christmas is for everyone and not just for somebody that can afford it,” Jackson said.
The Walter Payton Man of the Year is selected by a panel of eight judges, including Connie Payton (Walter’s wife). The winner receives a $25,000 donation to his designated charity and each of the 31 finalists receives a $1,000 donation. The four finalists for the award will receive an additional $5,000 donation.
For Jackson, any extra help that winning the award might provide would certainly come in handy to continue to help a community that he has grown to love and that has grown to love him in his nine years here.
Looking back on nearly a decade of playing football and helping out in St. Louis, Jackson can’t help but think just how far that relationship has come.
“It’s come a long way,” Jackson said. “I was 20 years old; I really had no idea who I was at the time. I was still trying to find myself and trying to live up to all the things that I saw from guys in the locker room. I was very fortunate to be around a bunch of Hall of Famers and I was just a young kid trying to find myself in life to now understanding that football is bigger than what I do on Sunday.
“It’s seven days a week I work at it that I’m a reflection of this organization and that I have to carry myself in a way, not only to make my parents proud, but the organization proud. I think, by doing that, I can use this platform and tell kids stay in school, dreams do come true, continue to work. It’s not always about talent but hard work and dedication that tends to open doors.”