Memorial Day is one of the most important holidays in the United States. Its purpose is to honor and remember the military personnel who have paid the ultimate price -- laying down their lives to protect their country. Unfortunately, it has become something else for many people. Memorial Day weekend brings thoughts about an extra day off work full of partying, having drinks with friends or watching baseball (when it's being played). But for former NFL wideout Vincent Jackson, Memorial Day is very different.
Not only did Jackson grow up in a military family, but he grew up with military principles that helped him become both the athlete and the person he is today.
Jackson was one of the premier receivers of the early 2010s during his time with the Los Angeles Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his 12 NFL seasons, Jackson caught 540 passes for 9,080 yards and 57 touchdowns. He was a home-run hitter, and when he retired in 2018, Jackson and DeSean Jackson were the only two players whose careers began in the 2000s to catch at least 500 passes and average at least 16 yards per catch, per ESPN.
While his on-field play earned him three trips to the Pro Bowl, in 2016 he accomplished something off of the field that he is just as proud of. Jackson was awarded the fifth annual Salute to Service Award, presented by USAA. He ended up partnering with USAA to promote serving those who have served this country, and this Memorial Day, he is encouraging Americans to offer a digital tribute to our fallen military heroes by visiting PoppyInMemory.com.
"USAA is part of our foundation, and they have been a part of our project for the last three or four years," Jackson told CBS Sports. "We always want to pay respects and give them promotion and support whenever we can."
Since WWI, the poppy has been a symbol of remembrance. The site is a digital continuation of an experience that has run the past two years and featured the temporary USAA Poppy Wall of Honor installation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On the site, you will be able to see how to dedicate a virtual poppy to a hero who gave their life in battle, the ability to learn about each military conflict and the losses suffered, and more.
"I have two parents who served in the army, so this is very, very important to me because I've always been a military brat, if you will," said Jackson. "It's a culture and a lifestyle that I have grown up in."
Jackson says that he feels as though Memorial Day is sometimes forgotten since it occurs during the summer and more people get the day off, as opposed to Veterans Day. While he has the utmost respect for veterans, Jackson feels as though he has more of a duty to remember those who are not around to celebrate Veterans Day.
"Memorial Day is one thing where I feel like some people have a lot of respect for Veterans Day, but maybe we all don't pay enough attention to Memorial Day," said Jackson. "For me, I've always been a big supporter of Memorial Day. I want to make sure that people acknowledge the people that have made the biggest sacrifice you can make."
Jackson was named the Buccaneers' Man of the Year four consecutive years in a row from 2013-16. Every season, each NFL team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community to be considered for the national award. His "Jackson In Action 83 Foundation" has provided support to military families, focusing on the educational, emotional and physical health of the children for years now.
Jackson feels as though supporting these military families is important, since they raise disciplined individuals who can go out into the world and accomplish whatever they put their mind to. Jackson certainly feels like he couldn't have become the athlete he did without his upbringing.
"My understanding of what it means to support and engage militaristic endeavors really showed me a lot," said Jackson. "So my career as a professional athlete was built a little bit around athletics -- but it wasn't totally all about that. It was a general concept of understanding that sacrifices have to be made."
So for Memorial Day this year, don't cancel your plans to get out of the house and hit the lake or pool, but keep in mind about why you have the day off. Think about why you have the freedoms that you have, and maybe donate a poppy to a hero that fought so that you could retain your rights as an American.