ICON 2022 Recap: NFL Great Emmitt Smith on Success on and off the Field

“I am passionate about something if I’m going to be associated with it. If I don’t believe in it, I’m not going to back it up,” said Emmitt Smith of his personal brand. “It has to be authentic.”

The NFL icon joined author and activist Gary McCollum in conversation at the opening keynote General Session of ICON 2022 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas, today. The former Dallas Cowboy, author of “Game On,” football analyst and winning contestant on “Dancing With the Stars,” talked about the principles that helped him succeed both on and off the football field.

“My passion for the Dallas Cowboys was intertwined with my love for the sport. They got all of me. I poured everything into being the best football player I could be. You have to protect the brand as much as you have to grow your own brand,” he said, noting that this taught him how to associate his brand with a quality product.

Smith talked about the tremendous power of influence and the responsibility that comes with that. It’s important to have humility, use your brand to build positivity and remember that there’s always something to learn about the growth process.

“We don’t want people to just be seen; we want them to be seen doing well. If you don’t see something, then you don’t believe it is possible. Influencers and mentors — people to look up to — show you that you can,” he said of representation in leadership and beyond.

Smith encouraged the audience to always remember to do the right thing, stand up for what you believe, accept responsibility and face the consequences.

“Don’t let money influence your decision or interfere with your belief system,” he said. “Stay true to who you are. You have to be authentic in terms of who you are and what you truly believe. You must understand what’s right and what’s wrong.”

The football great also noted that competition is a good thing, as it either brings out the best in people or helps them realize, “This is not for me.” It also teaches people to be driven, to be forward-thinking and to figure out how to make a vision a reality. “Begin with the end in mind, and make adjustments along the way,” he said.

“My high school coach told me: ‘Never be satisfied with anything because the day that you become satisfied is the day the growing stops.’ So, I always ask myself: ‘How am I growing? Do I have the passion for it?’”

Emmitt SmithHe continued: “The road is not straight, and the road is not flat. You have to experience failure. You are going to lose some games, and you are going to make some bad decisions. In evaluating oneself, we always have a chance to go back and look at the film, Smith said, regarding his football career and success. “Look at what you did well and what you didn’t.”

Perfection is unattainable, Smith said, but work toward it and keep trying to eliminate mistakes. “Look within oneself to learn what can make it better — strive for excellence,” and don’t get complacent with your success.

“Being driven has to do with what each person is passionate about, “Smith said. “When you’re passionate about something and you know you have the ability to impact — especially when it comes to your family — you don’t mind going up against a challenge because you’re going to protect it at all costs. You’re doing it for somebody else. I played the game and made sacrifices for my teammates. My family is the benefactor of that hard work.”

Smith tries to live his life to the fullest and share it with people who want to enjoy it. He tries to maintain interactions that are “solid and stable” because that’s how you develop trust, he says. “And consistency breeds trust. You have to be able to exercise some form of talent or provide some sort of service to repeat over and over to develop consistency.”

Another key to success, he says, is having a broader perspective on life but understanding where you fit in and how to use your voice. “If you don’t want to see it in the press, then don’t say it,” he also cautioned.

“In the process, as you grow, you must learn how to spread the light and know you’re not the only person going down this path. You’re taking other people with you and impacting lives. Others are watching, even if you don’t realize it. We all have something to say,” he said. “We undervalue our voices. We have a level of influence on people.”


Amy Jacques is the managing editor of Strategies & Tactics.

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