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Super Bowl Champ Marlin Jackson: Youth Football "Allowed Me to Have the Skills to Be Successful"

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Growing up, Marlin Jackson had a great role model in his older brother Elmarko. Now Marlin is trying to be the same to other young people.

Elmarko and Marlin grew up in Sharon, PA, just north of Pittsburgh. Marlin began playing youth football at the age of six because he wanted to be like Elmarko, who was six years older.

"He fueled my desire to play," Jackson said. "He was the neighborhood superstar, the super-athletic standout in every sport he played. I remember opening up his college football letters when I was a kid.

"When you're little, your big brother is motivation. He also gave me direction. A lot of kids growing up in my neighborhood didn’t have that. This was something in front of me that was extremely positive. It put my priorities in order."

Elmarko went to Temple to play running back. Marlin followed Elmarko to Sharon High, where he was a standout defensive back with 18 interceptions, including four pick-sixes.

And football helped him in ways that didn't show up on the stat sheet.

"Growing up in single-parent household, moving from home to home, there not a lot of male role models around," Jackson said. "But I had football that allowed me to have the skills to be successful."

After being named the Pennsylvania Player of the Year and an All-American in 2000, Marlin signed with Michigan. Jackson captained his Michigan team his senior year, earning his second First-Team All Big Ten distinction and consensus All-American honors.

In the 2005 NFL Draft, Jackson was selected 29th overall by the Indianapolis Colts, where he would play for five years. In the 2006 AFC Championship Game, Jackson made the game-sealing interception against Tom Brady's Patriots to send the Colts to the Super Bowl. Indianapolis went on to beat the Chicago Bears in Miami. 

After five seasons with the Colts, Jackson signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. But injuries put an end to his career before he could play a game with the Eagles, and he retired in 2011. 

Now, Jackson works on his foundation in Indianapolis. The Fight For Life Foundation helps underserved youth develop the social and emotional qualities needed for success through education, athletics, and wellness activities.

"What we focus on in the Fight For Life Foundation is what we call social and emotional learning," Jackson said. "It’s how you acquire and apply knowledge and skills necessary to show empathy for others, set and achieve goals and make responsible decisions.

Jackson used the fundamental traits he learned from the game to get his foundation started and to help the people involved.

"It's just like being on a team," he said. "You can’t do it all alone. I reached out to professionals. It turned into field trips, football camps, classroom culture, technology, behavioral health, which leads to mental health. We’re doing a lot."

And Jackson said he's excited to be sharing the lessons he learned on the football field with kids in the Indianapolis area. His foundation has reached over 12,000 underserved youth since its inception.

"For me, football was my arena where I developed social and emotional skills," he said. "You think about football and you think about the physical part of it. But you don’t think about how you’re learning yourself, how you’re learning self awareness, social awareness, being responsible. You have to have relationship skills, and you have to make responsible decisions on and off the field."

Photo: AP/G. Newman Lowrance


  • NFL Players and Legends
  • Youth Football