Professional athletes across the globe champion a dogged mentality that can be summed up in three simple words:
No days off.
The idea is that there is no downtime, no offseason. Polishing your craft is a constant undertaking.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan is quite familiar with this ethos — and not just in the football context.
The seven-time Pro Bowler, who’s also in his seventh year as a Saints team captain, is known for his explosiveness and physicality on the gridiron. With a whopping 7.5 sacks over the past three weeks, Jordan’s up to 11.5 QB takedowns on the season and 106 for his career. He’s a 6-foot-4, 287-pound game wrecker fronting the stingy New Orleans defense that has kept the Saints (8-8) in the playoff race all season long, with Sean Payton’s offense struggling to adjust to life after Drew Brees.
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But off the field, Jordan is equally tenacious with his volunteer work in the community, which has made him the Saints’ nominee for the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
“That, for sure, is a major blessing,” Jordan said to NFL.com last month. “Being nominated for this award automatically gives you some money towards your charity, which is awesome because that’s just helping out the community that I’m already in.”
This is actually Jordan’s second nomination for the prestigious award, as he was also the Saints’ pick back in 2017. No surprise, given his extensive service in the New Orleans area. For the last 11 years, ever since he was selected by the Saints with the 24th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Jordan has participated in community efforts every week. The activities vary:
- Mentoring at local schools and organizations like the Youth Empowerment Project, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Son of a Saint.
- Serving as an ambassador for the Saints Kids Club and the local Dairy Council’s program.
- Hosting countless shopping sprees for students, families in need and victims of domestic violence.
- Dishing out numerous backpacks, bikes and toys to kids in the community.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
The former first-round pick has also participated in two NFL/USO tours, as well as incalculable hospital visits, home rebuilds and refurbishment projects, while still making time to host his annual summer youth football camp, which provides hundreds of underserved kids an opportunity to better themselves in the sport.
Needless to say, complacency is a foreign concept to Jordan, who reflected on his off-field efforts a few days before Christmas:
“When I think about the last 11 years, when I think about how we organized going to different schools across New Orleans to Baton Rouge to wherever … Being able to talk to kids, being able to talk about not only staying in the curriculum, (but also) staying in the books and furthering themselves in their education. But to fast-forward: Five years ago, six years ago, you see those kids who were in fourth or fifth grade, now they’re in high school. Or the kids that you talked to that were in middle school, now in college. Or the kids in high school, now in the league. I ran into different kids that were like, ‘Hey, man, I remember you talked to me six or seven years ago.’ That right there is payment in itself.”
Jordan’s passion for outreach is palpable. He refuses to allow any adversity to stop the mission at hand. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Jordan relentlessly continued his volunteerism virtually. In the wake of Hurricane Ida, which devastated Louisiana shortly before the 2021 NFL season kicked off, Jordan immediately sprang into action to promote a team captains-led campaign, providing support to affected citizens receiving services from United Way. He sponsored thousands of hot meals to food-insecure residents following the storm, while setting up a program with the Cameo platform that resulted in a $20,000 donation to Second Harvest Food Bank. But it didn’t stop there. Jordan came across a local teacher and her son, who became homeless after the hurricane caused severe damage to their home, and provided them a new place to live in for an entire month, helping them get back on their feet.
Furthermore, he led a Say Her Name campaign in 2020, highlighting the stories of Black women who have been victims of police brutality, hosting a series of roundtable discussions, providing insight into the plights some Black women face in society. Naturally, Jordan wanted to do more, so he teamed up with Crescent City Corps, a New Orleans-based non-profit that equips police officers with leadership development and community engagement training. The aim is to work alongside citizens to build a more just, safe and inclusive city.
“Talking to the 17 officers that are a part of the second cohort (of Crescent City Corps), which I was able to be a part of — it was during the classes, it was being able to talk in an open, safe environment,” Jordan said. “Community leaders everywhere, from the outskirts of New Orleans to the inner city, venting frustration to these officers, and the officers being able to absorb it and understand what exactly the community was feeling. It’s the classes like those that are really altering.”
Jordan grew up in a football family, the son of six-time Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan. And ultimately, Cam’s goal is to dish out the kind of love and leadership that his parents provided him with at a young age.
“I grew up watching my mom, sort of being like a community mom. If you come to our house, you know you’re getting fed, you know you’re getting taken care. I mean, it’s an open heart with my mom and the love is just unconditional,” Jordan explained. “My dad played in the NFL, played for the Vikings for 13 years, was in the community, active in the community, always doing some sort of football camp, kids camp, making me and my brother tag along.
“So when you have the parents that I have, how can I not want to try and give back to the community?”
Though a second nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award is an honor, the 32-year-old says the work is what matters most.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s not about just me — it’s about the footprint that you leave,” Jordan said. “It’s about how much good can you do in this world.”
The winner of the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award will be selected from a field of 32 nominees, one from each team, and announced at the 11th Annual NFL Honors, broadcast live on ABC on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 9 p.m. ET, and simulcast on ESPN+ and NFL Network.
Follow Kayla Burton on Twitter.
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