When Lamar Jackson was a kid growing up in South Florida, he dreamed of playing in the NFL and being on the cover of “Madden.” He has already done both of those things, and despite a recent setback on a prime-time stage, he still has his eyes firmly set this season on his most ambitious football goal of being the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl-winning team.
We’ll get to that in a bit.
Jackson has more dreams, ones that center on his desire to help people in need and impact lives beyond the field. It’s why, on the heels of being named the youngest NFL MVP in 2019, Jackson recently took another step toward establishing roots in his new city by partnering with Lowe’s and the Southwest Partnership to provide support to the soon-to-open United Way Family Center in Poppleton, a historic neighborhood in southwest Baltimore.
The endeavor is Jackson’s first hometown initiative for Baltimore. He will work on improvements to the center, which provides early childhood education, daycare and resources for parents to help them improve their parenting skills.
“It’s just a dream of mine, ever since I was a little kid, to be able to give back to the communities,” Jackson told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview this week. “And for Baltimore to believe in me and have me as their starting quarterback, it was only right for me to go down into a neighborhood ... and give back to the community.”
Jackson is one of 32 NFL players, one in each NFL city, participating in the Lowe’s “Home Team” initiative, which aims to assist with projects that help address safe and affordable housing repairs, small business support, veterans’ outreach or disaster recovery.
“Any opportunity that I have to give back to Baltimore,” Jackson said, “I’m proud of that.”
Jackson’s charitable desire has gone beyond community service projects, as he has also used his platform to speak on social issues of late.
Why Jackson spoke up on Breonna Taylor decision
In the aftermath of a Kentucky grand jury’s decision last week not to indict police officers directly in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, multiple athletes expressed disappointment and frustration. Jackson felt compelled to say something, too, noting that he doesn’t “feel like it’s been the ‘Land of the Free’ for” Black people sometimes.
“I felt like I’m still young, I’m only 23, I just won the MVP and stuff like that; people didn’t believe in me just two years ago so I didn’t really, like, see myself having a voice,” Jackson said. “I’m never really the person that comes out and just speaks on things, I let other people do their job and you know, I focus on the season.”
But Jackson, like most athletes his age, regularly checks his social media feeds. And the messages he received in the aftermath of the Taylor decision — many of which were from fellow African Americans, he noted — hit home.
“People were DM’ing me and were like, ‘Man, I feel you should say something,’ especially because I went to the University of Louisville and Breonna Taylor is from Louisville,” Jackson said. “So I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to say something because it’s just crazy in the world, and she’s not [being] treated fair, her family’s not being treated fair and these people [are] just going with their lives.”
Jackson said the reaction to his comments were largely positive.
“There were a lot of people that agreed with what I said,” said Jackson, who added that the ones who took issue with his statement are part of the problem. “I feel good [about it]. I feel good.”
Moving on from the MNF loss to Kansas City
On the field Monday night against Kansas City, Jackson did his usual thing on the ground, rushing nine times for a game-high 83 yards. But he completed only 15 of 28 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown against a fierce pass rush that sacked him four times.
The talking head shows have obsessed about Jackson’s 0-3 record vs. Kansas City and his similar poor passing performances in the Ravens’ past two playoff losses. Jackson, who boasts a marvelous 21-4 record as an NFL starter, hears the criticism.
“You know it’s going to be the bandwagoners,” Jackson said, “the ones who want to talk trash and then when you prove them wrong, they’re going to try to make it seem like they’re giving you your credit, but they’re really not — they’re waiting on your downfall.
“So, you know, it is what it is. The world’s gonna keeps spinning, and we’re gonna keep winning. We’re gonna be all right.”
The Ravens’ first step to getting back on the winning track could come as soon as Sunday, when Baltimore (2-1) heads to Washington (1-2) in a matchup of cross-conference regional rivals. Jackson has used this time for introspection and self-improvement, everything from his passing efficiency to his in-game demeanor, especially when things are going poorly mid-game.
“We’ve just got to focus on Washington, regroup and get back to the regular program and get back to what we know,” Jackson said. “Just do us and focus on us, not the outside noise.”
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