My Little Motivation

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Malik Jackson, Defensive Lineman / Jacksonville Jaguars - The Players' Tribune

Becoming a new dad is the greatest thing in the world.

That’s saying a lot, I realize. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.

How do I know?

Well, for starters, I know because I’ve been transformed into a person who actually likes changing dirty diapers.

I like doing it. No joke.

The first few weeks after my daughter was born last December were kind of tough on the diaper-changing front, I’ll be the first to admit. In some ways, I sort of overthought it. I went overboard with my wipes usage. I wanted to make sure the baby was superclean, so I’d end up using like 10 wipes every time I changed her. It was too much, I realize now, but I figured that it was better to be safe than sorry.

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Eventually I got the hang of it. Now I’m a pro. She kicks a lot these days, so there are new challenges. You have to be good about holding her legs up so she doesn’t get her feet messy, but I’ve got that kind of down to a science at this point, and I actually enjoy the whole process. I’m embracing it. It’s fun. And, trust me, nothing less than the greatest thing in the world could’ve turned me into someone who would say that.   

But beyond the fact that I somehow learned to enjoy changing poop-filled diapers, there’s an even more legit way I know that becoming a new father is the absolute best. All I have to do is consider everything that’s happened to me in the past 12 months, and take stock of it all.

Having a beautiful, healthy baby girl is not only the best thing that happened to me in the past year; it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, period.

When you win the Super Bowl and become an NFL champion after playing a critical role in your team’s victory . . . and that experience is only the second best thing to happen to you in the past year, that’s your first clue that nothing beats being a new dad. Then, when you sign a big contract to play professional football in Jacksonville for the next six years, and that’s tied for second place in terms of the coolest thing you’ve experienced during the past 12 months, that’s probably another good sign. The fact that a trip to the White House to meet the president doesn’t even crack the top two for me seals the deal.

Nope, there’s no doubt about it. Becoming a new dad is definitely the greatest thing in the world. And having a beautiful, healthy baby girl is not only the best thing that happened to me in the past year; it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, period.  

It changed my entire world. And I could sense those changes almost immediately when I found out that she was going to be born.

As any new father will tell you, when you learn you’re going to be a dad, some weird things start to happen.

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You begin to care about stuff that you never thought about for a second in the past — things like how ridiculously complicated it is to properly install a car seat. You catch yourself reading about different types of cribs and learning about “tummy time.” Tiny clothes start piling up everywhere. Suddenly you can’t stop buying miniature sneakers.   

I’ve been transformed into a person who actually likes changing dirty diapers.

Those things kind of just come with the territory.

For me, though, one of the biggest changes I noticed after I found out that I was going to be a father occurred on the football field. When I came into training camp with the Broncos last summer, a few months after I got the good news, something was just … different. I’m not going to say I went harder during camp, necessarily, because I try to go hard every play, no matter what, and always have. But when I found out I was going to be a dad, my whole mindset of why I was doing what I do changed. I realized that it wasn’t just about me anymore, that I had a higher purpose.

I knew I was about to become a free agent, and I wanted to be able to earn a paycheck that would provide for the baby who was on the way. Just realizing she was coming gave me a huge boost of motivation to go out and really, truly dominate on the football field.

I was on a mission last season.   

I started every game for the Broncos, and I became a true staple of the Denver defense. My numbers were up, but, even more than that, I was a presence on the field — a player other teams had to account for, and a key member of the best defense in the league.

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Everything culminated with the Super Bowl 50 victory, and my big first-quarter fumble recovery for a touchdown.

We had played in the Super Bowl a few years earlier against the Seahawks and got thrashed, so that was a really tough experience for me. This time around, we were determined to finish on top. And to have that brotherhood with those guys — to build that defense into something special, one of the best of all time — was truly awesome.   

For me, personally, I felt like I really had to go out and play the game of my life in the Super Bowl. I had to show people that I was a force to be reckoned with. I knew that if I wanted to make a splash in free agency, and secure the future for my daughter, I had to go out on the field and earn it — that I needed to have that last great game, and have it be in the Super Bowl.

So that’s what I did.

And it was the best possible finish to what had already been an incredible season for me.

It took a ton of hard work on my end, of course, but I really do credit my daughter with inspiring me to play at such a high level. That inspiration was one of the very first gifts that she gave me, and, since her birth, she’s provided countless more. She’s six months old now, so her teeth are coming in, and she’s rolling over on her own. When she’s on her back, she can sit up by herself. It’s all pretty cool. We play peekaboo together all the time, and she smiles at me constantly — especially when I tell her she’s cute and smart, her two favorite words. Every day with her is a gift, and I don’t take a single one of them for granted.

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My hope is that I’ll be able to repay some of those gifts in the years to come. I have a great responsibility to my daughter, and I don’t take that lightly. There’s so much I want to teach her, and I want to provide her with the best example I can of what it means to be a good man. For me, that means doing what you say you’re going to do, being there for her in every way possible and making time for her even when I might not have time to spare.

I want to be consoling and understanding and reliable. I want to look out for her, and I want her to know that she can count on me to do just that when things get tough.  

And things will get tough.

Since becoming a dad, I definitely better understand why so many parents are very protective of their kids. When you have a little girl, it really makes you notice what’s going on around you, and you realize that the world isn’t always a nice place — especially for women. Things like the Stanford rape case, and news stories involving sexual harassment and discrimination, really open your eyes.  

There’s so much I want to teach her, and I want to provide her with the best example I can of what it means to be a good man.

And the more you pay attention, the more you realize that we aren’t as forward-looking as we think in this country. In so many different ways, women aren’t treated equally, and my daughter is going to have to deal with that reality. I’ve definitely become more aware of what’s going on in the news, and I’ve learned more about women’s rights and all the struggles that women go through. It’s really made me think about how women are treated in our society, and it’s clear to me that we still have a lot of work to do.

For now, though, I’m just glad to be celebrating my very first Father’s Day knowing that my daughter is healthy and happy. And I’m so thankful that she has such a wonderful mother. I know that, together, we’re going to make sure our baby girl grows up right.

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At the moment, we’re on different coasts while I train back East. It’s tough, but I do FaceTime calls with my daughter every morning and then again at night before bed, so she can see me and hear my voice. In July, she and her mother will be moving out here to be with me in Jacksonville — our new home.

And I’m so excited to have my daughter share in the next stage of my career. Make no mistake about it: I loved Denver. Those guys were my brothers. But the offer I received from Jacksonville was the right one for my family, and I couldn’t be happier to be a Jaguar.

The Jags have a lot of upside, and Coach Gus has things moving in the right direction, but it takes a special team to go all the way. I know that firsthand, and I’m going to do everything I can to help Jacksonville win a Super Bowl.

The road there won’t be easy, but one thing I can promise you is this: My daughter will be the cutest, smartest little Jags fan ever! She’s the one who inspired me to go out there last year, work my tail off and earn everything I’ve always wanted for my family. It’s because of her that I am where I am now. When I think about it, I truly believe that she came at the exact right moment in time.

My little girl got me to Jacksonville, and now I can’t wait to see how both of us grow.

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