Desean Jackson, the Eagles and Racism – posted 4/13/2014
As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, it was painful to watch the Eagles cut Desean Jackson. Not much to feel good about there. Your team loses an extremely talented wide receiver and they get nada. Plus they take a $6,000,000 salary cap hit.
Jackson is a special player. It is not just the fact that he had 82 catches last season. Eagles’ fans will always remember that punt return against the Giants at the end of the game in 2010. I was watching at a sports bar in Anchorage Alaska that was full of Giants fans. I remember all the Giants fans filing silently out of the bar after that punt return. Earlier in the game they had been raucous. It was an exhilarating moment to be an Eagles fan.
Jackson’s speed, his swagger, his big play ability and his sheer talent put him in a unique category. The Eagles have not had players like that. I am certainly not surprised the Redskins signed him. I expect there are some Eagles players who wonder about this move as well. Witness Lesean McCoy in the Philly paper today.
After the Eagles cut him, I was surprised by much of the media speculation. Just to recap: there was the nj.com story about his gang ties. Then there was the Richard Sherman piece in Sports Illustrated that contrasted the fact the Eagles re-signed Riley Cooper, infamous for his racist video, with their handling of Jackson. Some speculated that the Eagles timed the cut to coincide with the nj.com gang story. The implication was the Eagles slimed Jackson on the way out to make this contentious move easier for the fan base to swallow. Eagles’ management knew it would be unpopular.
Dave Zirin, a sports columnist I generally admire, chimed in with his own defense of Richard Sherman and Jackson.
There were also other stories about how Desean has been lost since his father Bill died of pancreatic cancer in May 2009. That loss was, by all accounts, devastating to Desean. Bill Jackson had been a sports coach as well as a critical positive influence. Michael Vick and Jason Avant had been two players on the Eagles who had mentored Jackson and they are now gone.
The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has announced they are going to investigate how the Eagles released Jackson in light of the strange coincidence of the nj.com story coming out right before his release.The investigation will look at whether the Eagles smeared Jackson.
In his piece, Richard Sherman spent time talking about how he and Desean grew up together in Los Angeles, played sports, and hung with people from their neighborhood, some of whom went to jail or were accused of crimes. He thought it was unfair Desean was being judged by the company he kept.
I like Richard Sherman and I admire his bravado and I like to hear what he has to say. He might be the best corner on the planet. Still, i think his piece on Jackson and most of the media speculation are way off. I think, in this instance, accusations of racism against Chip Kelly or the Eagles are rubbish.
When the Eagles cut Jackson, they said nothing except that they were parting ways. As a new coach, developing a new system, Kelly has a right to decide who he wants on the team and who he thinks gives him the best chance to win.
Kelly did not want Jackson. Kelly is a smart guy and he knew what he had in Jackson. Still he did not want him. My best guess is that Jackson was a royal pain and Kelly was tired of it. Joseph Santoliquito of CBS Sports wrote that Jackson was “blatantly insubordinate” to Kelly and cursed him out several times in front of the team. Jackson had a history of missing team meetings.
Jason Whitlock of ESPN wrote that Jackson was “a massive headache for a coaching staff”. Many wide receivers are divas and Jackson was the latest Philadelphia incarnation. He is following in the T.O. tradition.
The nj.com story said, in part:
“…sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles organization say, it originally was Jackson’s off-field behavior that concerned the front office. A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly were the original reasons for his fall from grace.”
Whitlock argues that the Eagles had legitimate reasons for cutting Jackson. His selfishness, his unreliability and his difficulty committing to a team concept were likely factors. Whitlock wrote that Jackson was uninterested in practicing hard. He also mentioned Jackson coasting through an entire season because he did not want to risk injury in a contract year.
For those who were watching, there was that sideline incident with the Eagles wide receiver coach. The Eagles have a very young team and coaches may have worried about Jackson influencing other players especially at a time the coach has made dramatic changes and is trying to get all players to buy into his system.
Based on the evidence, I agree with Whitlock that it is irresponsible to paint the Eagles as racist in their dealings with Jackson. It did not work out and the Eagles decided to move on.
Raising the spectre of racism on this set of facts trivializes the issue. Racism remains an urgent problem in the United States. We still have our ghettos in every major city. In spite of making huge strides, African-Americans are discriminated against in employment, housing, education and health care. Racism is institutionalized and we have far to go as a society in addressing it.
When I was in Alaska, I read Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow”. That book focused on the mass incarceration of young black men. I think the book is the best introduction to how racism is currently functioning in the United States. It deserves far more attention than it has received.
Desean Jackson is a multi-millionaire. His deal with the Redskins gives him $16 million guaranteed. I am not feeling sorry for him. If we are going to talk about racism, how about focus on the millions of minority people who are living in poverty in no limelight. Where are the advocates for them? Our system continues to fail poor people whether they are black, Latino, other minority or white. That is a class issue as well as a race issue.
I did want to say one other thing about Riley Cooper since he was injected into the Jackson story. What Riley Cooper said was moronic and racist. Hopefully he has learned from that hugely embarrassing experience. We need to allow room for people who say racist stuff to learn from the error of their ways.
I honestly do not know what Cooper has learned but maybe he did learn that racism is evil. Maybe he will grow from that awful experience and become a better person. I do not like the holier than thou, self-righteousness of people who act like they have never said stupid things.
After taking an Eagles team that was 4-12 and turning it around in one year, I give credit to Chip Kelly and I remain optimistic that he has a vision and knows exactly what he is doing. Time will tell.