AURORA, Colo. — Since his entry into the NFL, Kareem Jackson has made it a habit to visit local children’s hospitals when he can. After all, it’s a central focus of his charitable foundation.
So when he stepped off the elevator at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Anschutz campus on Tuesday, he imagined he’d be pretty familiar with the experience that he’d have.
Instead, midway through the visit, Kareem Jackson stood and stared blankly, not knowing exactly what was going on in front of him.
He knew it was a video game called “Fortnite,” but that was about the extent of his knowledge. The patient, a teenage boy, was starting a new session, and — luckily for Jackson — he had some fellow “Fortnite” fans to talk with in Josey Jewell and Keishawn Bierria, who were standing next to the new Broncos cornerback.
As the boy explained it, this was the coolest thing he could imagine doing during his brief time with a few Broncos players: something so mundane and casual as playing a favorite video game, but this time with an audience of professional football players to talk with.
Though he didn’t understand the game on the TV, Jackson understood that feeling perfectly. That’s exactly the goal of these kinds of visits. It may be small, but it leaves a lasting impact.
“I’ve got to tell everybody,” the boy exclaimed just as the door was closing after Jackson and his two teammates departed to go to the next room.
As a new Bronco, Jackson is ready to start making an impact on the field on game days.
But as a new Colorado resident, he’s ready to start making an impact in other ways, too.
At the center of that effort is his foundation, the Kareem Jackson Foundation, which has a mission of “providing families with seriously and chronically ill children with daily encouragement and life-changing experiences,” and “honoring and supporting women who are battling and those who have achieved victory over breast cancer.”
When Jackson was a child, he watched as his older sister battled leukemia and his mother battled breast cancer. Now, as an adult and an NFL player, his goal is to give a sense of comfort, joy and strength to people who are in situations similar to what he experienced during his childhood.
After spending the previous nine years in Houston, Jackson has been settling into a new home in Denver. That wasn’t just about finding a place to live or getting up to speed on the playbook; it was also about finding the new epicenter for where he can make a personal impact on children and families.
So presented with the chance to make a visit to Children’s Hospital Colorado’s seventh floor and the bone marrow transplant unit, Jackson took some time out of a busy day to meet some incredible kids and their families.
“These kids are at such a young age for them to be going through what they’re going through — not getting a real chance to actually be a kid, to be in school and to be out playing with friends and having sleepovers or those things that kids do,” Jackson said. “It’s a terrible thing, so for me to be able to create these memories and for them to give them some type of enjoyment or smiles for that moment, I’m all about that.”
Often the children may not know the names of the players they meet in their hospital room. They may not even be sports fans. It doesn’t really matter. They’re always happy to meet the Broncos who take the time to share a kind word and get to know them.
And, as it happens, the visits tend to leave a lasting impact in the other way, too.
It’ll be hard to forget the brilliant little girl who told them what she’d learned about red blood cells and what they do in the human body.
Or the boy who had the chutzpah to tell three Broncos players that not only were the Patriots his favorite team, but that the Broncos ranked 16th in his ranking of favorite NFL teams.
Or the boy who had drawn mustaches in dry-erase marker on the glass door to his room, so that they would appear on people looking into his room. All three Broncos autographed that door in the same marker.
“It’s just all about trying to give them some type of escape,” Jackson said. “For them, it’s definitely long days, with chemo or whatever that they have to do for that particular day. But to get a visit from guys that you might have seen on TV or if they’re football fans or just if they don’t even know who we are, just to kind of give them [Build-A-Bear] bears or whatever the case may be. That can lift their spirits for the day.”
These trips to the hospital will be a staple in Jackson’s endeavors, but he hopes to bring the extra programs that were main parts of his foundation in Houston, too. Right now, he’s putting together a new foundation board in Colorado, he said, and his goal is to continue doing events similar to those he did previously, like the “Christmas in July” gift-giving program for children at a local hospital.
In the meantime, though, he can work on something a bit simpler, like just getting up to speed on “Fortnite.”