“There’s nothing special about me, I’m just in a special position.” —Rashad Jennings
The Good Men Project / July 23, 2014
by Cameron Conaway
Rashad Jennings was a 7th round draft pick back in 2009. Now, through his work ethic both spiritually and physically, he’s looking to be the starting running back this year for the New York Giants. On paper Rashad’s got the creds—he’s 6’1” 230lbs of muscle and when Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden struggled with injuries last season, Rashad stepped in with 733 yards and an astonishing 4.5 yards per carry. He’s been called a renaissance man, but it didn’t come easy. Rashad went from an unhealthy, asthmatic, academically-underperforming young man to a healthy, guitar-playing, professional athlete who pours his heart into a foundation he created to help mentor youth. Training camp is coming soon, but he took some time out for us here at The Good Men Project.
Rashad, let’s break the ice here. I know you bench press 425lbs and squat 700lbs. And I’ve watched you run over cornerbacks without blinking an eye. But when was the last time you cried?
RJ: The most recent time I cried was last weekend when I put on a two-day community event through my foundation. I was able to experience a wide variety of people coming together for a great cause. I saw members of families who had grudges with each other decide to forgive. After sharing a positive message at the event, I witnessed more people coming together and dialoging who previously resented each other. I even saw churches and companies who would normally compete with each other for business, or be divided from each other over secondary issues, joyfully working together serving the community.
I even had the pleasure of speaking to one woman who about a year ago was told by her son that he didn’t want to live anymore because of all of the negative labels placed upon him by his peers. She said that not long after he shared those heart-wrenching words with her, he learned of my story; and since hearing it, his attitude has changed dramatically for the better! Guess what … I got to shake that young man’s hand last weekend! Nothing better than that!
It was then that I began to think of my own beginnings. I became overwhelmed with the thought that I was once an unlikely, chubby, asthmatic little kid with a 0.6 grade point average! Yet, here I am today, so blessed by God that I actually get to do things like this! No words can fitly describe what only the tears I fought back could say at that moment!
On a lighter note: There are two movies that I cried watching before … Believe it or not, they were Hancock and Thor!
Take us back to the younger you—a kid growing up in Virginia. What are two pivotal events that helped shape the direction of your life?
RJ: The two pivotal events in my childhood are more like two facets of the same situation. It had to do with my relationship with my father. Don’t get me wrong, he is a man I dearly love and respect. And we have a great relationship today. But during my childhood, he wasn’t exactly the best of fathers—If you asked him, he would say the same thing.
But two life-changing things in particular came from my interaction with him. You see, he was a drinker and a smoker. And anyone who knows anything about asthma will tell you that second-hand smoke is extremely harmful to a child with that condition. Yet, my dad smoked continually—in the house! It is only by the grace of God that his smoking didn’t do more damage to me.
As I got older, I began to get into spats with my dad, particularly about his smoking. I mean, how could my father smoke around his own son who has asthma? Yet I also hated his drinking too. Sometimes we would argue about it, and I would storm out of the house and not come back for hours! Yet something good did come out of all of this dysfunction … One, I decided that just to prove to my dad that he was wrong for smoking and drinking the way he did, I would never smoke or drink alcohol—and I never have to this day! And two, because of the poor health he had and the asthma that I had, I determined to devote myself to healthy eating and exercise.
I firmly believe that if it were not for this two-fold event from my childhood, I would not be in the NFL today! And get this! After seeing the results of my decisions, my dad has long-since quit smoking and drinking too! I also believe that everyone who accomplishes anything that significantly impacts the world has some source of anger or frustration in their past that made them want to be better.
In college I studied and became enthralled with a book titled Many People, Many Faiths. My years of traveling abroad reinforced many of its beautiful lessons. What is it about a person’s faith (regardless of religion) that helps them lead a better life?
RJ: One of the things that I find intriguing about Jesus Christ is the fact that He never spent time speaking of other faiths—though all of the other faiths speak of Him in some way. The conclusion I came to is that Jesus didn’t waste time attempting to chip away at other faiths because He was secure enough in Himself.
I believe I am called to be like Jesus, and one of the most freeing ways that I can express my self and my faith is not by attacking other people’s faith, but by so living mine out that I challenge others to thoroughly examine theirs. I firmly believe that whatever one claims to believe, they should totally believe. Sure, I would love for everyone to have the same faith as I do, but is that realistic? Of course not.
But one thing is for sure, there is nothing that has proven to be more beneficial to the life, health, and welfare of most people of the world than their faith. Studies have shown that people of faith tend to live longer, and have more fruitful lives than those who don’t take faith seriously.
How would you describe the relationship between your personal faith and your performance on the football field? How does one bolster the other?
RJ: I would like to answer that question by explaining a bit about what faith is. The Bible says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Even Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and dictionary.com attest to the fact that this is the definition of faith. Whoever said one bolster’s the other? I think a better question to ask a person is “How do you USE your faith?” Because faith without works is dead. However, faith is not spirituality either. And the end result of faith is not always success, but it is the greatest motivator.
For example, the work I do to prepare for the game is the substance. The very fact that I am on the field in an NFL game is the evidence that I am playing to win. And the thing which is not yet seen is the end of the game. The fans get to see what I have done with my faith. The substance of the “win” that I hope to help my team achieve is seen in how hard I train and prepare before the game. The evidence of the “win” that you don’t get to fully see until the game is over is what drives me to leave all of what my faith produced in preparation out there on the field.
As one who has been called a renaissance man, what aspects of modern masculinity and manhood would you like to see change?
RJ: I would like to see men given more of an excuse to live up to a higher standard. To see men slower to react, quicker to think. Instead of mental and physical weakness, I would like to see more mental and physical meekness—which is strength and power under complete control with dignity. Masculinity is shown by changing something for the good. If you leave the world alone it corrupts itself … it takes a true man to change it! I also identify a man as one who is not ashamed to allow his heart to lead.
Tell us about the Rashad Jennings Foundation. When was the seed planted and where would you like to see it in 10 years?
RJ: Education, health & fitness, and mentorship are the three pillars that have helped change the course of my life and this is what RJF is all about—changing lives the way mine was changed. In 10 years, I would like to see RJF as one of the most beloved and trusted organizations around, and one which has grown to such a degree that I cannot possibly take credit for it.
Thanks for taking time to answer questions for us, Rashad! Our entire team at The Good Men Project will be cheering you on this year!
RJ: I’m humbled by this opportunity to work with the Good Men Project. I support the cause and the hearts behind it, and I welcome the opportunity to do so again!