By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
When their Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (WPMOY) nominee is determined each year by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they know just the man to make their candidate.
For a remarkable fourth year in a row, in just his fifth year with the team, that man is again wide receiver Vincent Jackson, whose contribution to the military community underlies a dedication befitting the legendary namesake’s award, which recognizes a current NFL player for his commitment to the community and philanthropic impact.
But that devotion has deep roots as number 83 grew up with not just his father, but his mother too, serving in the military that created a cause for all in the family.
“I grew up in a military household and had the awesome opportunity to be a military kid, where I received a great respect for the military and those who serve our country,” stated Jackson during a phone interview this week. “My father was in for 22 years, and my mother served as well, and growing up different places, including Germany, helped make me a more well-rounded person.”
Well-rounded indeed and as fate would have it, Jackson’s NFL career has taken him to two of America’s top military towns in San Diego and Tampa, where he could carry out his calling to honor his parents’ U.S. Army service.
“I was drafted in 2005 by the Chargers and spent seven years there, where I was involved with various activities ranging from Salvation Army and pediatric events to feeding the homeless and 5K runs, and I was encouraged to give back in the right way,” recalled the Northern Colorado alumnus.
But it was when he went to the Bucs that Jackson really ramped up his responsibility by starting his own foundation, called “Jackson in Action 83.
“When I went from one military town to another, and after arriving in Tampa and visiting MacDill Air Force Base, which is U.S. CENTCOM (Central Command) headquarters, I met with officers and their families and knew it was the right time to set up my foundation,” explained the 6’5” 230-pounder.
“So, I set it up with three foundational pillars, which are Emotional, Educational, and Physical, and pledged that I would be very hands-on, would show up for everything, and be out there sweating so I would have a true connection with everyone involved,” stated the three-time Pro Bowler, whose parents now live in the Tampa Bay area.
Show up he has since establishing his organization back then, and with the depth and breadth of events and programs now offered, his all-in commitment is contagious.
“I got feedback from the base and talked also families and teachers so I could find programs useful for those who needed them,” Jackson said. “So, I created Military Moms Baby Showers for those with deployed spouses, where 50 or so families would receive strollers, cribs, diapers and the like, which went a long way to getting these couples off the ground.”
From there, he also built a Salute to Reading program for third-to-fifth graders where reading coaches and teachers would work with the students while also offering incentives, such as providing a tour of the Buccaneers headquarters at One Buc Place for about a dozen top performers each year.
“We also held an end-of-year banquet for approximately 75 students and their parents and teachers, which this year was held at the Glazier Children’s Museum in Tampa, just one example of how the Glazier Family who owns the Bucs have supported me,” Jackson said.
Yet another program that Jackson created harkens back to his own childhood and being raised in far-flung locales.
“I wanted to go old-school in offering low-tech activities for kids, such as jump rope, sack races, water balloons, hula hoop, and even just playing with friends in the yard, while also including a nutritional component as well,” said Jackson, who also provides three scholarships for high school students from the Florida Gulf Coast and beyond to attend college.
But that’s not all, as he and his wife, Lindsey, have come up with Danny DogTags children’s Books, and he even celebrates the holidays as well
“We have done multiple holiday events, such as a Thanksgiving dinner with disabled veterans and also a Christmas Drive,” he observed.
All of which led to his WPMOY nomination, and as he fittingly told the NFL Network a few weeks back on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, this honor again was very meaningful to him.
“It’s awesome, and I put it up there with any on-field accolades I have ever gotten. To touch the community and these young lives and our military servicemen and women and their families is a true passion of mine. To be recognized is a true tribute to our Board, our Foundation, our volunteers and all the hard work we do, but again we keep these servicemen and women at the forefront and they are the stars of this cause.”
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc. a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, which includes articles in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).