In a move that shocked most NFL observers, on Friday the Philadelphia Eagles cut ties with three-time Pro Bowl Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson. Word spread quickly that the team gave up its rights, including the right to trade the still-under-contract Jackson, because of Jackson’s alleged ties to infamous South Central Los Angeles gang, the “Crips”.
The Eagles severed their ties to Jackson soon after an article appeared in NJ.com stating that the team was concerned about Jackson’s potential gang involvement. While there is no hard proof of his gang affiliation beyond flashing Crip gang signs in off-field photos, as well as during a game last year with the Washington Redskins, in the wake of the murder charges brought last year against New England Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez stemming from his involvement in both a pair of drive-by shooting deaths, as well as the disappearance and murder of a witness to those shootings, NFL teams are not in the mood to tolerate even the appearance of a gang affiliation.
Jackson was coming off his best season with 9 touchdowns, an average of 16.2 yards gained per play, and a total of 1,332 yards gained overall. Besides the “gang problem”, there were also rumors that Jackson had an inconsistent work ethic, missed meeting, and generally didn’t have good chemistry with the Coach Chip Kelly.
However these claims are discounted by Coach Kelly himself, “I like DeSean,” Kelly told reporters at the NFL’s annual meeting Wednesday. “DeSean did a nice job for us (last season). But we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization.”
His former coach and other teammates also expressed positive feelings towards Jackson. Prior to Jackson’s release from the Eagles, teammate Jeremy Maclin said, “I want to win games and obviously DeSean is a very talented player. So I want to win games.”
His former coach Any Reid said he had “nothing but good things to say about the kid” when he was asked about him Tuesday at the annual meeting. “I did draft him. I had a great relationship with him. When his father passed away, that was a hard thing for him to go through at a young age. They were best friends. I’ve experienced life things with him, so I would tell you he was great for me when I was there.”
In the wake of Jackson’s departure, two Eagle players told the Philadelphia Inquirer, on the condition of anonymity, that while Jackson wasn’t a “cancer “in the locker room, his departure would not result hurt the team all that much. Starting Eagle Center, Jason Kelce, was less guarded when he tweeted out “We just made an extremely unpopular decision, but I couldn’t be more excited and happy with where this organization is going!! #FlyEaglesFly”.
Not exactly ringing endorsements for Jackson. Another anonymous source within the Eagle’s organization told NJ.com that the team was “concerned about having him around the younger players.”
The documentary ‘DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father’s Dream’ tells the story of Jackson’s relationship with his father is very enlightening to the situation. His father pushed him to be an NFL player from the age of nine. This lead to tension outside the locker room during Jacksons’ time at the University of California at Berkeley where Coach Jeff Tedford expressed concern that Jackson was a “me first” player, more concerned about his ticket to the NFL than the success of his college team, which Tedford blamed directly on Jackson’s father.
But a “me first” attitude is not rare in professional sports, nor are affiliations with less-than-desirable characters from one’s childhood, so it seems certain that the Eagles simply chose to believe that where there was smoke, there might later be gunfire.