Demonstrates Excellence on the Field
Despite suffering a horrific knee injury in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl to close out his collegiate football career, the Dallas Cowboys selected Jaylon Smith in the second round (34th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. Nerve issues in his foot kept Smith on Reserve/NFI his entire rookie season, while he rehabbed the injury to return to the field in 2017, collecting six starts of the 16 games he played. Smith finished 2017 just shy of 100 tackles and earned the team's prestigious Ed Block Courage award for his perseverance and hard work through his injury rehabilitation. Smith had a breakout year in 2018, finishing second on the unit with 150 tackles while adding 4.0 sacks, five tackles for losses, 13 pressures, four breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown, starting all 16 games and both playoff contests. Just prior to the start of the 2019 season, Smith signed a five-year contract extension. He then started all 16 games for the second consecutive season, and by the end of the season, he led all Dallas defenders with a career-high 168 tackles. For his work, he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Luke Kuechly.
Demonstrates Dedication and Commitment to Community Efforts this Year
Despite the challenges created by COVID-19 in 2020, Jaylon has continued to work hard both on and off the football field to be a positive role model for his teammates and others in North Texas and in his home state of Indiana. During lockdown, he worked to make sure his own charitable efforts with the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute (MEI) did not decline due to a lack of personal contact and a need to social distance. The pandemic's economic shut down and the societal unrest that arose in the United States during the quarantine only invigorated Smith to continue his work and expand MEI to be a solution for change.
"There has been a lot of talk about the racial divide over the past couple of months," Jaylon wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Dallas Morning News on July 12, 2020. "I'd like to talk about the new color to help bring us together: green. I am honored to play for America's Team, and I've been privileged to live the American dream. But too many people who look like me don't believe that the dream is available to them. Sadly, statistics confirm their fears. African American median net worth averages a dime compared to a dollar for white Americans ($17,600 vs. $171,000 respectively)." "I want to use my success as a pathway for thousands of other black and brown entrepreneurs to become successful," he continued. "I call this my purpose beyond athletics and I launched MEI to fuel this vision. With less than two percent of venture capital being invested in minority entrepreneurs, MEI is seeking to close the gap by generating quality deal flow."
In July, Jaylon hosted the inaugural MEI Texas Showcase, which was patterned off of the previous efforts he had launched in Indiana. The pitch competition for minority entrepreneurs in Texas received 147 applications from minority representatives of 42 Texas cities. Ten finalists were invited to join the Shark Tank – like format, with five entrepreneurs competing for investment capital during the event. The Texas Showcase ended up investing $600,000 in five new MEI portfolio companies and qualified several dozen companies for the MEI Texas Marketplace – a mechanism that has over $13 million in combined deal flow. Jaylon has pledged $2.5 million over 10 years to spur MEI investments and is adding co-investors across the country who share in his beliefs. His hope is that minority entrepreneurs will be the game-changers who can make a changing economy come to life.
To accelerate the development of minority enterprises, Jaylon launched the inaugural MEI Summit this month, which is intended to equip minority entrepreneurs, regardless of their background or experience, with the skills they need to build and grow their business. It covers core competencies like sales and marketing, finance, and business operations alongside candid conversations with successful business owners about the challenges and perspectives that come with being a minority entrepreneur. In addition to Smith's work on MEI, he is an active member of the Dallas Cowboys community outreach efforts and frequently joins teammates in supporting causes that make a deep impact for those needing a hand up.
Amidst the COVID-19 challenges of 2020, Jaylon joined fellow Dallas Cowboys defensive linemen to raise funds for struggling family-owned businesses, front line workers and provide resources to first responders serving the community during the pandemic. Jaylon also worked to support the NFL's voting campaign leading up to the November 3, 2020 elections. He worked with NFL Votes and served as an ambassador for the When We All Vote movement. A "go-to" community-focused member of the Dallas Cowboys roster, throughout 2020 and shelter-in-place, Jaylon has announced college scholarships for students, surprised breast cancer survivors for Crucial Catch and has recorded numerous video messages to those down on their luck and much more.
Demonstrates Dedication and Commitment to Community Efforts in Years Past
Since joining the Dallas Cowboys as a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Jaylon has been a staple participant in team community outreach efforts. Even as a rookie, unable to see action on the field due to his Injured Reserve / NFI status, he kept busy helping others. Jaylon and his brother Rod, also an NFL player, hosted football camps for at-risk youth in their hometown of Indiana. Jaylon also took part in Dallas Cowboys Rookie Club events encouraging kids to Play 60 and to be high-character individuals. Jaylon was an annual participant in the Dallas Cowboys U High School Football Camp for underserved student-athletes; highlighted causes important to him through the NFL My Cause My Cleats campaign; traded a football for baseball bat at the Dallas Cowboys Reliant Home Run Derby to benefit The Salvation Army; worked with NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki to support the Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game; visited patients in various North Texas children's hospitals during the Cowboys annual holiday of giving season; welcomed and spent time with numerous youth facing life-threatening illnesses granted wishes through the Make A Wish Foundation; and purchased holiday gifts for children in need as part of The Salvation Army Angel Tree Program.
Demonstrates Consistency in Positive Character and Models a Lifestyle of Giving Back
Jaylon grew up in Fort Wayne, IN, and has always had a passion for others through education and business. A mantra that he started in high school, "Clear Eye View," has been the guidepost for his entire career. "A focused vision is about setting out on something that you have to be able to see clearly - a determined belief. You have to believe in yourself and have belief in God that you can accomplish what He wants you to accomplish."
In his final college game during the Fiesta Bowl, Jaylon suffered a devastating knee injury that put his football dreams in jeopardy. Many wondered if he would ever be able to step onto the football field again. But Jaylon was more determined than ever, and it was through that determination and Clear Eye View that he was able to focus on his calling to help others and developed the ideas behind MEI.
Fulfilling a promise to his family and to himself, Jaylon returned to the University of Notre Dame in 2019 to finish his degree in film and television. His entrepreneurial spirit drove him to build his own enterprise off the field with investments in six real estate development projects, three private equity deals and co-founding his own eyewear company – CEV Collection – named after his signature phrase, Clear Eye View. Smith's pursuit of his personal business ventures exposed him to the need for investment into the minority entrepreneurial community. His drive to give others the same opportunity to financially succeed and see their business dreams become a reality drove him to launch the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute in partnership with RISE Sports Advisors and the Sagamore Institute.