Saints Hall-of-Famer Rickey Jackson discusses Colin Kaepernick, NFL support and life after football

Every Tuesday at Rock-n-Bowl, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation Quarterback club holds a luncheon. At these weekly luncheons, they honor two high school scholar athletes for their achievements on and off the field followed by a variety of speakers including high school college and professional coaches. However, this week’s keynote speaker was Saints Hall-of-Famer Rickey Jackson, who I had the honor of sitting down and speaking with. 

The “Dome Patrol” founding member, Rickey Jackson is one of the greatest linebackers of all-time and the first Saints player to be inducted in the Pro-Bowl Hall of Fame. Rickey spoke on a variety of topics that had many in the audience interested like today’s Saints and his current life.

What stood out the most about Rickey, however, was his dedication in keeping and honoring his word to come to the luncheon. Rickey was in the hospital the night before the event and, though he didn’t say why, I knew he wouldn’t let whatever it was stop him from fulfilling responsibilities.

That was inspiration right there and made me even more honored to have the opportunity to interview him after the lunch.

Rickey Jackson and Branisha Spincer

  1. How big of a transformation was moving from the north to the south for school?

Rickey Jackson: I come from a poor town, and we didn’t have a like one three-story building. We all didn’t have like ceilings and floors. I come from a small town, a poor, poor town. Everybody was, you know, just making it. So football had a chance to get me out of town and get me in a career.

So that’s what made me leave my hometown to go to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won all the games the year before I got there–they had won the national championship, so that’s when they had Tony Dorsett. So they was on top of the world, being number one. I went to the best school in the country. So that’s what made me go.

Branisha Spincer: You went there on scholarship?

Rickey Jackson: Right, I went there on scholarship.

2. How did you cope with the move and everything that came with it?

Rickey Jackson: It was different but I went there with a purpose. I went there to make pro football, so whatever it took, I was willing to do it just to get into the NFL, because I was that good. I’d never seen snow before and for me to come out doors one day and I had on short pants and snow was up to my knees all morning I had to go back in. I couldn’t go to class that day because I had never seen snow before. That was my first time ever seeing snow. So it was something different. You know, now I had to go buy clothes, had to go get a wardrobe for the winter. I never knew that.

Branisha Spincer: And you came from Florida, so I understand that’s sunny. That’s kinda hotter than New Orleans.

Rickey Jackson: Right. So now I got to go and get somebody to get me coats and sweaters, and a whole different wardrobe. So it was just different.

3. Did this in any way affect your identity and value?

Rickey Jackson: No, because it was 1977 and Pittsburgh had won all their football games, so everything, everybody was happy, plenty of everything so. And then when I got there, you got all the people from Philadelphia, from New York, from Ohio–all of them was going to Pitt because the football team was so good. So you know, I had a lot of help. You wouldn’t have to worry about, you know–you had a lot of friends that you met that you could go home with them. I didn’t have to go back home on holidays I was going to different cities around Pittsburgh and staying with different people.

Branisha Spincer: So you met people that fit your interests.

Rickey Jackson: Right. A lot of girls, you know, a lot of girls would come home with me, helped you with your homework and all that kinda stuff.

Branisha Spincer: That’s my biggest goal because I’m huge on support. I come from New Orleans, and like my family’s big on support…That’s interesting because I need that like I need the friend system like I’m coming from this place and going somewhere else–that’s kinda like fearful right now.

4. Did you follow Muhammad Ali and his social movements. Do you agree with staying true to himself, even if it affected his career?

Rickey Jackson: Yeah, I followed Muhammad Ali, and I was a big Cassius Clay guy. And I don’t know what year he changed his name, but the year he changed his name, I was always–my dad was always a Cassius Clay guy. He would always talk about Cassius Clay, and when he changed his name, I don’t think I followed him as much after he changed his name as I would have before he changed his name.

5. Can you say the same for Colin Kaepernick and his movement?

Rickey Jackson: That situation is he’s better than…every team they got two quarterbacks, and ain’t no way ten  quarterback’s better than him. You know, he took a hard stance and the stand that he took it might cost him his career, but I think as you go on I think in the next week or two somebody might give him a try.

Branisha Spincer: Yeah I heard–I forgot who it was, but somebody was looking after him like two days ago.

Rickey Jackson: Yeah, they might give him a chance. Because the Jets need him, Cincinnati needs him, there’s a lot of team that need him. It just takes one owner… Jacksonville needs him. So a lot of teams need him.

Sooner or later somebody’s going to step out…and sign him. But my whole thing is, you know, he deserves a shot. I mean he ain’t did nothing that some of the rest of them–some of the rest of them got on one knee. All it takes it just like an owner to give him a shot.

Listened to Tom Brady yesterday say that [Kaepernick] deserves to be in the NFL. So I mean, you get enough players saying that, it don’t take but one or two of the good players to step out and miss a week. It take somebody like Tom Brady to say ‘hey, if Colin can’t play I’m gonna miss this week and I’m not gonna play.’ So that’s the only way you can solve–we gotta get somebody, because you know the players association ain’t never been strong, ain’t never did anything that could be nowhere near like the owners. All the unity is way stronger than the players’ unity. The players’ are stronger now than when I was playing. They just never did get the right leaders and stuff, and that hurt us.

When I got out of football, we had leaders running the show who was ex players. They wasn’t lawyers or businessmen. And now they got one that is a lawyer, but…I mean…those guys are more worried about their financial situations–they not worried about the players. So the players making good money now. The owners don’t mind sharing a little bit of money with them. But they not sticking together.

6. Will other NFL player give players support in these times?

Rickey Jackson: No, they trying to play football. They trying to you know–they worried about football now and they getting they money now so they ain’t got time for all the other stuff right now.

7. What would you suggest for young players entering the NFL? About how they are supported and how this industry can sometimes change you.

Rickey Jackson: My whole thing is if a guy’s gonna make pro football then…it’s alright for a player to go into it, but if you ain’t gonna make pro football, I wouldn’t even suggest a guy to being playing football these days. Because of the after effect, you know, when it’s all over with, the problems all these guys having. I’m seeing some of these guys having so many problems with head problems, with knees and hips and everything is going out on them, that’s just a brood of sport.

So I mean my thing is it’s for guys who’ve got a shot to make pro, but if a guy ain’t gonna make pro I don’t think he should take the beating, take all the backlash that come with it. But the thing about it is, he’s gotta watch the crowd he’s running with. That’s the whole key to–who he’s following, who is his mentors, who is he looking up to. That’s gonna be the key to him getting with the right guys and hanging with the right guys. Because a lot of young guys now, you see them getting murdered and getting killed because the better you trying to do, the more jealous people be. If you trying to be great, if you trying to do something, the guys who ain’t doing that–they jealous of it. So, he got a lot to go through, a lot to watch out for.

8. I know this month is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and I know you beat it in 2015. How was that if I may ask and how did the NFL support you during this time.

Rickey Jackson: Yeah, all players get screened free. All of them get screened free. They don’t have to–I mean we have a whole hospital at Tulane where anything that’s going on with you, you can go and get hospital free and get everything free. So you ain’t got no business having nothing that you don’t know you have it when they got a whole hospital free for you. We got a whole NFL hospital here. So I can go to the hospital and get everything checked. So you know you can’t beat that. And on that note, people from other teams–they can come here and get checked, too. They check all the NFL players here…Tulane University, they got a whole third floor for ex football players to come so every week probably four, five, six football players from other teams come and spend three days to get all they–see everything they need, get all their organs checked, all they everything checked. Yeah, they’ve been doing that now for a couple year. They check your prostate, check your heart, they check everything. They check your memories. 

9. Just because playing in the NFL is not a career you can have forever. How important do you feel it is to have a college degree and a back up plan.

Rickey Jackson: Well, I look at so many people that got college degrees that can’t get a job. So a college degree is great to have, you ain’t never gonna tell nobody not to go get a college degree, but a college degree don’t always secure you neither. So what you need to have is some knowledge and somewhere to get where you can do something on your own. I mean try to get your own stuff established, try to work for yourself. Because if you trying to sit there and wait on a paycheck from a college degree every week, every two weeks, you’re gonna be stuck in the system. A college degree is great to have and you want all your kids to have them and everybody want their kids to get a college degree, but now a college degree–it don’t… it’s not the same as it used to be. I mean, you know, you get a college degree and you get a job and every two weeks you get a check and the check goes to all your bills. So now you got to wait the next week–so it ain’t…you ain’t getting ahead with that. Get you something that you can make money. Get you a boutique or get you a restaurant or get something that you got a couple hundred thousand dollars coming in, you know, where you can make your own money.

10. Is there anything else you would to share or say to upcoming players or young people in general.

Rickey Jackson: No, I’m just glad to see you doing what you’re doing and keep it up. Take it to the next level.