When senior captain and linebacker Jackson Weber stepped on Cornell’s campus freshman year, he had two goals: become a leader of the football team and take advantage of Cornell’s renowned government department.
When he is not busy leading the Red to more wins this year than the past two season combined, Weber can be found in bowels of Uris or Olin, writing his senior thesis on the American election process.
He can also be found working in the offices of John Plumb, who is currently vying to unseat Ithaca’s Congressman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.). Weber says his work on communications and finance for Plumb’s campaign has been “awesome … [working] for an extraordinary guy.”
Reed — a three-term incumbent of the 23rd district and one of the first congressmen to endorse Republican nominee Donald Trump — is currently polling ahead of Plumb, but the Democratic candidate is mounting a strong fight against the incumbent.
Before his time working for Plumb, Weber left his mark on his home state of Wisconsin by interning for Ron Kind (D-WI) in Washington, D.C. When 2016 rolled around, Weber was able to work on a presidential campaign in Hillary Clinton’s Madison office as a communications intern.
“I learned a lot and met a lot of really awesome people at the office, but also people who are involved with politics around the state,” Weber said of his time with the Clinton campaign. “I have known for a little bit that I want to get involved in some capacity in politics and in public policy.”
Although politics was always an interest in the back of his mind, it was a current events class in high school that solidified government as one of Weber’s true passions.
“I would say my real political wakening was during my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “[My teacher] was a huge influence on my life and really taught me how to begin to think critically, to be an active participant in the world around me and not just be a bystander.”
It is no secret that many Cornellians lean left on policy issues. Weber said he believes his liberal tendencies stem in some ways from his other biggest passion outside of politics: football.
Weber characterized his hometown of Whitefish Bay — a small village outside Milwaukee — as “very white, very affluent.” He said the lessons he learned from his more disadvantaged teammates, who came to his high school through joint enrollment programs, shaped his liberal views.
“I became really close with those teammates and very actively wanted to learn more about the challenges that affected them and their day-to-day lives and see how much different their lives were from me for a variety of different factors,” Weber said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a partisan issue but just learning about the lives of others and being open and being empathetic I think drove some of my more liberal positions.”
This is not to say that Cornell is a school with a homogenous ideology. Especially on the football team, there are a wide variety of political opinions present, according to Weber.
“We talk politics a lot, some guys more than others,” Weber said. “It’s certainly something where guys aren’t afraid to have any conversation while on the team.”
While politics tends to be a divisive topic, Weber actually believes the dissenting opinions among team members have improved chemistry.
“Having those conversations and being open with each other and learning where people are coming from and what is important to them will ultimately make us stronger as a team,” he said.
Weber said realizing the differences in upbringings of his teammates allows him to form more cohesive bonds with his fellow football players, plenty of whom hail from more conservative households than Weber’s.
“If you can take that step and be a little more understanding and knowledgeable about who a guy is and where he comes from and what makes him tick,” Weber said, “then within football that will make us more successful.”
Outside of the 2016 election, one of the most hotly contested political topics this year has been national anthem protests among NFL teams, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Across the country, individual players and entire teams took a stand for Black Lives Matter in different ways.
Weber noted that there was even talk of Cornell football staging its own demonstration in solidarity with the protest.
“It wasn’t terribly controversial within our team,” the linebacker said. “There were also discussions on if our team wanted to do anything like that and we have not. Guys on our team aren’t really afraid to have these conversations that might be tough.”
Throughout the sporting world, many argue about whether athletes should be obligated to use their fame to incite social change or to remain focused on the game. Seeing athletes like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony expand what it means to be an athlete and speak on important topics impacting society has inspired Weber.
As one of Cornell’s premier athletes, Weber has also made a name for himself outside of sports. He has served as president of Cornell’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council, contributed to the Roosevelt Institute — a political think tank — and is a member of the Cornell Political Union on top of football practices and his laborious senior thesis.
While football is Weber’s current, he believes his future lies outside the sports world. He plans to go to law school down the road and perhaps get involved in political campaigns himself. Before he can do that, he knows that Cornell has provided him with the tools to make his mark world around him.
“Deciding to come to Cornell was the best decision I ever made,” a sentimental Weber said. “I knew coming in that this place was going to be an incredible experience athletically, academically and socially. I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity as best I can … and learn not just in the classroom but outside the classroom about this community and about the world.”