We must work hard to make a living, but it is what we give that shapes our lives. My dad spent many, many years in the Army as a master sergeant. When he retired, he worked a little in construction, but mainly he became known as the 'fix-it' guy on the street. If the plumbing went wrong, you'd call Ed up and he'd come over and fix your plumbing. If your fence broke down, he'd come by and fix your fence. He was always giving something to somebody. Once I asked him, 'Why do you do that?' He said, 'That's what you're supposed to do in life. It's about giving. It's not about what you're going to get, it's about what you're going to give back.' That's truly his legacy.
Besides my dad, I had a lot of coaches who helped me along the way when I was growing up. When I found a little bit of success, I started repaying that debt. A couple of buddies from Seaside and I formed a charity golf tournament with the idea of raising funds to build a new center for the Boys & Girls Club. And we did it. After that, I started thinking that the center was great and all that, but we really weren't touching kids directly. We had given them walls, but we hadn't really had a chance to inspire them or teach them or help them grow. That's something that had meant so much to me as a kid. A coach would take me aside and teach me something new, or tell me something about how to fix my technique or even about how to get along with the other kids. It helped shape me into who I am today, and I believed it was important to try to do that for other kids from Seaside, too.
So we scrapped the golf tournament and started a football camp that was free to any kid who signed up. I said that for one entire week, I would help coach any kid who signed up and promised to be there and give his all. I enlisted the help of a bunch of former teammates and coaches, and we developed this camp, which now draws close to 500 kids each summer. It's an amazing thing to see. Walking onto the field, if you didn't know better, you'd think it was chaos and a half. But it's a calculated chaos. We divide the kids into teams based on age and ability, and then we coach them and teach them, and they play in a system that leads to the Super Bowl.
You might have figured this out about me by now, but I'm not one of those guys who has a camp and then shows up only for the banquet. No, sir. You'll get tired just watching me run around those fields. Because I'm the guy with the name. I'm the guy they want to see and to be seen by. So I make it my business to move all over the field to see as many kids as I possibly can.
These kids come from all walks of life. Most of them are like I was way back when. Not a lot of money, but a lot of drive. Some have very little direction, but they're there because they want to be. I always say the hardest thing to do is show up. These kids show up every day for a week because they want something. That's something I can appreciate.
At the end of the week, we have them all come for a celebration dinner. I get up and say a few things, we take some pictures, and we invite their parents and everyone in their families to see what the kids have accomplished. And it's all free because of donations and the hard work of some of my closest friends, who believe in giving back just as I do. It's a wonderful thing. My mom comes. My mom's friends come. My wife, Lia, runs the concession stands, but I think we lose money on the candy sales because kids are always coming up and she ends up giving them money to buy things. But that's okay, too. These are needy kids, and the thing they need most is people to believe in them so that they can believe in themselves.
When I got to the Jets, one of the first things I did was start a youth football clinic in Central Park. At first they thought I was crazy. 'Central Park?' they said. But I've said it all along: We are a New York team. We should be taking our message to the people of New York. The first clinic we had, we had hundreds of kids show up. I also started a clinic for 250 high school football coaches at Fordham University. I know I have a powerful platform from which to preach, and I'm going to do whatever I can to get the message out.
Lia started the Jets women's organization, which raises money for many charities and is involved in many functions for worthy causes.
Giving back doesn't have to mean some grandiose gesture or something that really involves time and effort, like my camps. Giving back can mean something as easy as tutoring a second grader in reading or donating books to a shelter. It's an important and meaningful way to say that you're happy to be so fortunate in your own life. It keeps you grounded, and it inspires you just the same to know that you've perhaps touched someone else's life in a meaningful way.