Ex-NFL star promotes good choices

Published 12:30 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

Retired National Football League star Jimmy Smith has been tothe top.

He’s made millions, set records, been to the Pro Bowl many timesand compiled more than enough statistics during his 13-year careeras a wide receiver to make the hall of fame. Now 40 years old andout of the game, Smith is trying to do something new with hissuccess.

He’s trying to give it away.

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“I want to use my status to come back to Mississippi and make adifference,” Smith said. “The greatest gift in the world is beingable to come back and give it away, and I want to give it to allthese kids so they can succeed and avoid the mistakes Imade.”

Smith, a Mississippi native who attended Callaway High School inJackson and went on to Jackson State University, has returned home.On Friday, alongside Brookhaven’s Miss Mississippi’s OutstandingTeen Laura Lee Lewis, at Brookhaven Elementary School, he kickedoff a round of speaking engagements to school children across thestate.

The former pro athlete wants to spread the message offered in hisprograms – the Jimmy Smith Foundation and Jimmy Smith Athletics,which mentor at-risk youth through sports – to children statewide.He gave the third-graders at BES a taste of the program Friday,encouraging them to welcome hard work, practice self-affirmationand strive for the best in all things.

That’s the formula he had to use to get to the NFL in 1992,elevating himself above hundreds of competitors. And it’s the sameone he needed to stay there, as fresh, new talent came into theleague year after year to compete against him, Smith said.

“I want to take that NFL mindset and install it in these kids’minds,” he said after speaking at BES. “I want to get them preparedto be successful.”

Aside from spreading the message of success to schools like BES,Smith is taking particular aim at the embattled Jackson PublicSchool District, which he found to be unsatisfactory when hereturned home from Jacksonville last year.

He’s lobbying for the district to implement an “all sports period”in its curriculum, which he said would allow student-athletes topractice during school hours and have more time to spend onacademics and with their families at home. The class would shift totheory and film-study during the off-season, Smith said.

But Smith’s desired all-sporting period would be for non-athletesas well, and its aim is much bigger than varsity sports. The classwould also incorporate fitness, workouts, diet and nutritionalinformation he hopes will produce more children with healthy bodiesand minds, cutting down on Mississippi’s nation-leading obesityrate.

“The way to do it is through schools,” Smith said.

Smith stressed those goals to the young children at BES Friday,constantly encouraging them to reach for good grades, to take careof their bodies and apply disciplined, hard work to achievesuccess.

“Hard work, a lot of times, isn’t fun. You don’t always want to goto practice, but when you score the winning goal, all that hardwork is worth it,” he told the students. “It always pays off to dothe right thing.”

Smith’s first school speaking engagement in Mississippi came as aresult of his service on a hip-hop summit sponsored by JSU in earlyFebruary, where he met Lewis and was captivated by her platform,HERO – Honor Excel Reach Overcome.

Lewis used her HERO program at the summit to describe the impactmusic has on the lives on young children, and Smith saw their goalswere crossing paths. He approached her about joining one of herspeaking engagements, and Friday’s trip to BES was scheduled.

“She has a program that does an outstanding job for children, andher and I and others have a campaign to make this thing right,” hesaid.

Lewis said the two programs work well together, with Smithtargeting primarily teens and her speaking mostly to elementarychildren. Smith’s trip Friday was an elementary icebreaker for him;he used the opportunity well, playing off Lewis’s HERO platform tomake his own points.

And he wants to do more, Lewis said. The two unlikely teammates aremaking plans to visit more schools together in the future.

“We both talk to children and teens about making good choices andbettering yourself,” Lewis said. “We both want to help them growand become successful – to start now, at a young age, so when theygrow up they’ll know how to make good choices.”