Seattle Seahawks defensive end Branden Jackson has been through quite a bit to get this far in his football career. The Texas Tech product went undrafted in 2016, bounced around a couple teams and even spent time on the practice squad.
Last season, Jackson served as the primary backup to Michael Bennett on the Seahawk’s defensive line. Now with Bennett gone, Jackson could finally get his chance to break out as a starter in the NFL.
Jackson has definitely worked hard to get where he is at today. He has also been doing a lot of work off the field this offseason. Jackson has been working with the American Diabetes Association and also took a visit to his hometown to talk with some of the kids at the schools.
So why is Jackson giving all this time off the field instead of relaxing this offseason?
“I honestly just feel like it’s my duty,” Jackson said. “I’m a guy who loves where he is from.”
Here is a closer look at what Jackson has been doing.
Visit to his hometown
Jackson grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, which is about 30 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh. Jackson was a two-sport at the high school, playing both basketball and football. He was a four-star recruit by scout in football, was named first team all-conference and helped lead the team to a league championship.
Jackson returned to his hometown to share some lessons he has learned in life with the kids there. He said his main focus was to challenge the kids to be themselves and not to worry about fitting in. He told them that if they want something in life, go and get it.
“When all else fails, just dream. Don’t ever be too prideful to dream,” Jackson said. “Don’t ever think that what you want in life is too big or too unachievable.”
Playing in the NFL can be a dream that seems too big or unachievable at times, and Jackson had to go through a lot to get where he is now. Jackson was undrafted. He spent time on the practice squad. He has been a reserve. Jackson also wanted to point out that when failure comes, you can learn from it. Your dream does not have to end because of a bump in the road.
“You have to allow failures to be a failure and just kind of look at them as a lesson, a lesson learned, and move on from that,” he said. “You got to grow, you got to improve and keep fighting and keep dreaming.”
Jackson also gave recognition to those in his hometown that helped him get where he is now. He pointed out to the students that the very teachers and coaches they have also were his teachers and coaches. He challenged them to not be afraid to lean on the people around them, because they were some of his biggest supporters.
Work with the American Diabetes Association
According the the American Diabetes Association, One in 11 Americans is living with diabetes with millions more at risk. Jackson has multiple family members that have been diagnosed with diabetes, making his involvement with the ADA a little more personal.
Last season during the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign, 25 players supported the ADA, including Jackson. The players wore custom-designed cleats to help raise awareness for diabetes.
Jackson is also associated with the ADA’s Team Tackle, a group of former and current NFL players that help raise awareness for diabetes and help raise diabetes research funding.
With his involvement in the organization, Jackson hopes to show that living with diabetes does not have to be a negative.
“I want people to understand that the disease isn’t a crutch,” Jackson said. “I come from a long line of people affected by the disease. My grandmother is the primary reason why I want to help raise awareness because of her impact on my life and how she raised me and how she never let that be a crutch.”
Along with his grandmother, Jackson has cousins, aunts and nieces that have diabetes. Jackson said the only way it can be a negative is if you allow it to be. He said taking insulin and following a diet is not always ideal or even cool, but it should not prevent people from doing certain things or even prevent them from being themselves.
“Learn to take care of yourself, and eventually it is just going to be another day, you will be yourself,” he said. “You can be the person you want to be despite having to take a different route.”
Jackson believes people can do better when it comes to a disease as serious as diabetes. Jackson said often times it can be swept under the rug with comments like “stop eating junk food” or “work out.” Jackson said it all starts with realizing diabetes is serious and that people die from it.
“It’s not taken as serious as something like cancer,” Jackson said. “I understand there is no cure for cancer, but all diseases alike need to be taken seriously. We need to be made aware, especially with a disease that is so commonly diagnosed.”
Jackson just wants the cause to be respected, adding it should not be something put off to the side just because it does not kill instantly.
Jackson was supposed to attend a meeting with congress back in March to further discuss diabetes and the impact it has had on his family, but his flight to Washington D.C. was canceled due to snow. However, Jackson still plans on attending another event in the future.
Jackson will get another opportunity to speak on diabetes in Washington state. Jackson will be a guest speaker at the ADA’s Tour de Cure Championship Dinner on May 4.
The Tour de Cure is the ADA’s signature fundraising event and will take place at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. The event itself has over 65,000 cyclists and volunteers each year from all over the country. The dinner Jackson will be speaking at celebrates the top fundraisers who have each raised at least $1,000 in support for the cause.
*Special thanks to Glen Wallace and Peterson Sports for the story pitch and photos
Featured image by Ken Obusek
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