Adams didn’t know his father. Nobody in his family had gone to a four-year college. He was conditioned to believe there was a low ceiling for his expectations.
He had music. He had sports. Nothing else really mattered. Nothing else offered much room to grow.
“It just didn’t seem like there were a whole bunch of opportunities out there for me,” Seahawks free safety Jamar Adams said after Tuesday’s minicamp.
Adams was in middle school when one of his teachers asked him if he would like to become a mentee for the national mentoring group 100 Black Men.
“I didn’t want to be a part of it, because all I heard was that you had to go to school on Saturday,” Adams said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going up to the school on Saturday. I’m going to play basketball with the boys.’ But my mom (Cecelia Adams) got behind me and said, ‘You’re going to go there every Saturday.’ ”
Mentoring changed his life.
100 Black Men connects successful African-American businessmen with kids with uncertain futures.
In its vision statement, the organization says it “seeks to serve as a beacon of leadership by utilizing our diverse talents to create environments where our children are motivated to achieve.”
Through 100 Black Men, Adams eventually met Lenny Springs, a former executive at Wachovia Bank who works in the Obama administration. Springs opened Adams’ eyes and mind to endless possibilities.
“To be honest, there wasn’t anybody in my neighborhood running down the street saying, ‘I want to be the next vice president at Bank of America,’ ” Adams said. “We wanted to be the next Michael Jordan. The next Kobe Bryant. You see Kobe Bryant. You see Barry Sanders. They look like you and you can feel like, ‘I can be that.’
“But you don’t see the people in the business world who look like you. Once I saw those men at 100 Black Men, who looked like me in positions that weren’t publicized in my community, I saw that I can be that too.”
Springs became Adams’ godfather, and they still talk regularly. Every summer, before training camp, Springs asks about Adams’ goals for the year, on and off the field. Springs counsels him on taking care of his finances, still mentors him after all these years.
“It’s become like a father-son relationship,” Adams said.
Now Adams quotes from his mentor the way a classical actor quotes from Shakespeare.
“Lenny has always told me, ‘If you want something in life, there’s nobody in any situation that can come up to you and tell you, you can’t achieve it,’ ” Adams said. “Through Lenny I’ve seen the work ethic it takes to be a professional at anything.
“Watching him, I saw that even in high school I had to outwork all my teammates. I carried that over to Michigan and here. And now that I’m here, I have to stay after practice. I have to do more than other people. Not to impress anybody else, but for myself, so I can maximize my abilities.”
Jamar Adams, 24, is the kind of person we want professional athletes to be. He’s hit the trifecta. He’s intelligent, talented and compassionate.
He graduated from Michigan. He beat the odds and went from being an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, to a member of the Seahawks’ practice squad, to a backup safety and special-teams player.
He understands his good fortune, knows how difficult it is to get where he is and wants to share his story and talents with as many people and in as many venues as possible. He knows there is a world that needs him away from the adulation of the 70,000 Sunday NFL worshippers.
“Now, after all the people who have helped me, for me not to help people, for me not to do charity events, for me to not be involved in the NAACP, or 100 Black Men, for me not to help in the community, well I feel like I have to do more,” he said. “I want to get involved in politics so I can help more people.
“Lenny built me a nice (metaphorical) house, now I want to add another brick. Without him, I wouldn’t have had that house and my goals would have been a lot different. Now I want to keep adding those bricks.”
Now, for Adams, the possibilities seem infinite.