Jarrett Payton, former star running back for the University of Miami and the Tennessee Titans, delivered a powerful message on the importance of hard work, kindness, and teamwork to Marlowe Middle School students March 8.
Payton, the son of Bears all-time great Walter Payton, relayed lessons he learned as a child from his father and his father’s contemporaries, including Bears teammates and Bulls star Michael Jordan.
Among the most important moments of his life, Payton shared the story of the time when his father took him on a surprise trip to Toys ‘R Us shortly before Christmas. The store was empty save for Payton, his father, and a few employees. Several empty carts sat before him, and his father instructed young Jarrett to fill them with whatever he wanted from the store’s shelves.
After an ecstatic shopping spree, Jarrett was surprised again, when instead of taking the toys home, they stopped off at a low-income apartment complex and distributed to toys to needy families.
“All the toys that I thought were going back to South Barrington with me were actually going to a couple of families that weren’t able to have Christmas,” he said. “It was that moment that I figured out what my passion was—my passion for giving back and service. I’d never felt the way I felt seeing the joy on these kids’ faces.”
That passion carried Payton through a long road of hard work to reach the upper echelon of college and professional football. It also led him to found the Jarrett Payton Foundation in 2011, to which he and his wife have devoted much of their lives in his post-football career.
The Foundation focuses on motivating students, including anti-bullying efforts that have been used in many schools, as well as a program that targets building confidence in young men through the game of football.
He also shared the message of hard work and taking advantage of every day—lessons that carry on from his father, who passed away at the age of 45.
“Take advantage of your time, because we’re not promised the entire day,” Payton said. “We’re all lucky that we woke up today. You’ve got to make every second count.”