The St. Louis Rams handed out their yearly awards on Monday and the occasion was just another reminder of how much Steven Jackson means to the Rams and the St. Louis community.
Steven was selected as the recipient of three Rams team awards, two for his work on the field and one for his contributions off of it.
For the fourth consecutive year and fifth time in nine years, S-Jax was selected as the recipient of the Daniel F. Reeves Award for Team MVP. In addition, SJ39 was awarded the Carl Ekern Spirit of the Game award, given to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, work ethic and commitment to his teammates. It was Steven’s first time winning the Ekern award.
“It means a lot,” Steven said after being honored. “These young guys, this particular team is very talented and a group that came along a lot faster than a lot of guys probably assumed that we would. The tide is turning around here and the feeling is different.”
In addition to his two gridiron awards, Steven was also named this week as the Rams’ Walter Payton Man of the Year, a designation bestowed on one member of every team in the NFL. With the Rams’ honor, SJ39 is now eligible to be named the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.
The league award winner is selected by a panel of eight judges, including Connie Payton, wife of the late Walter Payton. Each of the nominees receives a $1,000 donation to their charity, in Steven’s case, the SJ39 Foundation. If he is selected as one of four finalists, Steven will receive an additional $5,000 donation from the NFL to his charity and the winner of the award receives a $25,000 donation to their charity. For Steven, it’s an honor to be even mentioned in the same breath as Payton.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Steven has done plenty over the last year to be deserving of the award. He continued his work in Las Vegas over the summer with Three Squared, a program which sends kids home with backpacks full of healthy food items that they might not have access to outside of school. His foundation has also started a Back to School program that sets kids up with the accommodations needed to get ready for the new year.
In St. Louis this season, Steven teamed with the Little Bit Foundation, a group which works with local schools to create better learning environments for children in the most underserved areas of St. Louis by providing for their basic needs.
“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,” Steven said. “It goes a long way. I love the name because a little bit does go a long way for some people.”
Though he does so much work in the community, Steven tries to do it under the radar, as not to make it seem like he’s active in the community just for the publicity.
“I do a number of things,” he 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.”
He was also active with the St. Louis Rams foundation again this season, making repeated trips to hospitals and schools to visit kids, bring them joy and impart on them some wisdom about staying in school.
“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.”
Higgins passed along one such story of many to Nick Wagoner of Rams.com about Steven’s work in the community. During the season, Higgins said she mentioned to Steven and his sister Rhonda that there was a boy in a local hospital undergoing treatment for cancer that was a huge SJ39 fan. The Rams sent the boy an autograph to try and brighten his day, but Steven did them one better.
“The next week we received word from the young man’s dad that Steven dropped by the hospital to visit him,” Higgins said. “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.”
For Steven, it was just another chance to use his status as a NFL star to do something for someone else. It’s something he continually strives to do because of his upbringing and how he has matured over nine years in the league. He reflects fondly on his early years in the league and learning from guys like Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt how to use the spotlight for good.
“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,” he said. “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.”