In 2013, wide-out DeSean Jackson had his most stellar year: a career-high in receptions (82), yards (1,332) and touchdowns (9). Under first-year coach Chip Kelly and starting quarterback Nick Foles, Jackson silenced any doubts that his elusiveness and agility would be dumbed down by eclipsing all expectations. Now suddenly ensconced as one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles surely would have a massive contract extension waiting for Jackson in the end zone following the 2014 season to make him one of the highest paid receivers on the field.
On Friday, March 28, following a scathing report from NJ.com connecting Jackson with gang members, the Eagles released the Pro Bowler with a simple message: “After careful consideration over this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his released today.”
I’m sorry, but—and I believe I speak for whomever else first read that statement—uh, what?
As more and more football fans gravitated towards the NJ.com article and more information slowly percolated onto the already confusing and wishy-washy landscape, Jackson’s reputation metamorphosed from a fun and exciting player who willingly participated in anti-bullying events around the Philadelphia community to a—cover your ears, Richard Sherman—dare I say it, thug.
With the t-word being thrown around lately when speaking about the sport of football, Jackson’s story—however fallacious, libelous or blasphemous it may turn out to be—comes at a not-so-perfect time for Roger Goodell, who has been adamant in his pursuit to “protect the shield.”
We all know what happened with former Eagle Michael Vick and his dog-fighting pandemic; we were also reminded to not overlook a person’s past after Aaron Hernandez’ arrest last year; but news like this further hinders the NFL’s growth to become a league with clean, respectable and decent human beings—not just talented athletes.
Also in the month of March, news broke that former safety Darren Sharper was charged with two counts of sexual assault and three counts of administering dangerous drugs, which piles onto his record of allegedly raping two other women in November.
In allegorical news, Baltimore Ravens’ multifaceted running threat, Ray Rice, got himself tied up in the law just one day after tying the knot—with the person he allegedly struck and rendered unconscious. Last Thursday, he was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault after a disturbing video from TMZ showed him dragging what looked to be an unconscious woman, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator. On Friday, they got married.
But, hey, whatever floats her boat, right?
Nevertheless, it is vital to not let these stories blur football fans’ vision of the respectability of the league, and something we all can do is simply have a little patience. With 24-hour news coverage on anything from who might win the MVP race in the NBA to which country Russia is invading next to what—or whom—Miley Cyrus most recently twerked on, one thing we need to do is let each side have their say before placing a label on an individual.
In the case of Jackson, he has staunchly rejected the notion of any ties to Los Angeles gangs, such as the Crips, which is made evident by the immediate release of this statement after being cut:
“First I would like to thank the Eagles organization, […] Secondly, I would like to address the misleading and unfounded reports that my release has anything to do with any affiliation that has been speculated surrounding the company I keep off of the field. I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible. I work very hard on and off the field and I am a good person with good values. I am proud of the accomplishments that I have made both on and off the field. I have worked tirelessly to give back to my community and have a positive impact on those in need. It is unfortunate that I now have to defend myself and my intentions. These reports are irresponsible and just not true.”
Yes, we all know that the first reaction when someone is accused of being at fault is to completely reject the possibility altogether: I did so stop at that stop sign! I didn’t take the last cookie! I swear I left some tissue paper!—don’t you just hate that? However, in every story, there are two or more sides. Consequently, you, the readers, have the responsibility to vet the information that is poured in front of you at seemingly light-speed and wade through the reports in order to forge your own opinion. So, here you go…
Jackson was first linked to gang activity when a 14-year-old, Taburi Watson, was shot multiple times after supposedly flashing a rival gang sign to two Crips members on his bicycle in southern Los Angeles. One of the shooters, Theron Shakir, or “T-Ron,” is a rapper under Jackson’s own recording label, Jaccpot Records.
Since then, Jackson has been sighted via social media, backing up Shakir and supporting him through his trial—which he was later acquitted from last January.
In fact, Jaccpot Records stirs some controversy merely in its name. According to the NJ.com article, cops believe that it was symbolic to the Crips’ propensity to avoid putting a “C” and “K” side-by-side in a word to avoid the connotation, “Crip Killer.”
Another link to gang-related activity was in 2012, where a murder took place in a home that was owned or leased by ones of Jackson’s family members. During the search of the house, several of Jackson’s documents were found, including a car title, gun permit and credit-card receipts.
Not only that, but Jackson appeared to throw a hand gesture, resembling the Crips symbol, into Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall during last season’s opener. He also flashed a similar sign in a music video he shot alongside Snoop Dogg.
Further run-ins with the law include marijuana possession and—wait for it—illegally tinted windows.
Most recently, however, Jackson turned out to be the victim of a crime during the early stages of 2014, where burglars stampeded into his South Philadelphia home and barged out at least $125,000 richer, most of it in jewelry, and equipped with two stolen handguns. Jackson swiftly offered a $50,000 reward for any information that could be provided over the incident.
There have been waves of supporters coming out of the woodworks in defense of Jackson, including teachers from his past and players that he currently takes the field.
His counselor at Long Beach Poly, Debbie Hughes, did not hesitate to put a kind word in following Jackson’s release: “DeSean is a great guy—he was a sweet kid in high school … There was no gang activity with him. He wasn’t in a gang. That’s not to say other students weren’t, but DeSeasn definitely wasn’t one of them.”
The athletic director, Rob Shock, also exhumed on Hughes’ point: “Every single year during his bye week, he comes back and talks to the kids and goes to a game. He’s always had a big heart,” he said. “DeSean hasn’t done anything; he hasn’t committed any crimes.”
Jackson, indeed, has been an active member in the Philadelphia community during his 6-year stint in the City of Brotherly Love. He has been an avid supporter to the squelching of youth bullying, according to multiple sources, including the NJ.com article.
In which, Jackson’s high school coach is quoted as saying, “As a player, he was great for me. I didn’t have any issues,” she began, then segued into the reports of gang-related incidents. “Athletes like to portray a tough image with gangsters and whatever else. Maybe he’s playing into that. That’s a part of him that I never really saw.”
Within the NFL, players like former teammate Vick, Tampa Bay running back Derrick Ward and even the thug-labeled Sherman—who also happened to grow up in Los Angeles and was on the same little league team as Jackson—expressed support for the accused player.
“@DeseanJackson10 and me have been boys since we were kids… No one should be judged by the actions of others! #fam” the Super Bowl champion tweeted along with a picture of the 1999 baseball squad.
If it’s any further consolation, teams haven’t had much trepidation when it comes to inquiring for Jackson’s on-the-field talent. Four teams, the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, quickly were in the mix to pick up the sudden free agent.
Reports denoting the Redskins as the favorites to land Jackson have bubbled up to the surface earlier this week, which scribbles quite the plot twist in this already convoluted and uncoiling saga. Washington, a division rival of Philadelphia, would provide two opportunities for Jackson to prove to his former team that they pulled the plug on his electrifying career too hastily.
Only time shall tell what other edits the football gods have to make of Jackson’s unscripted career. But was it the right move for Philly to part ways with the troublesome Jackson after a top-notch performance in 2013? Or did they make a premature mistake that will impact them from 2014 onward?
When it comes to Kelly and the Eagles organization, they’ve already made their decision. Now it’s time to make yours.