Commentary

A Question Of Character

Eagles had plenty of work-related reasons to release DeSean Jackson

Updated: April 3, 2014, 10:26 PM ET
By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

It's my belief Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles wanted to trade DeSean Jackson because the diminutive receiver is -- and always has been -- a massive headache for a coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezDeSean Jackson received criticism for being a high-maintenance player for coaches to handle.

It's my belief Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles cut DeSean Jackson because they realized a sensationalized media report tying together the diminutive receiver's "gang ties" would eviscerate Jackson's trade value.

The people, including two-mouths-and-one-ear All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, screaming that Kelly and the Eagles have acted in a racist manner have chosen the wrong target.

If any group has been unfair to Jackson, if any group has judged Jackson without nuance and given in to stereotypes about black men from a certain background, it is us, the media. We are the group benefiting from a mischaracterization of Jackson's relationship with his friends and the Philadelphia Eagles. We are the group filling broadcast airtime and driving Internet clicks with analysis focused on the belief the Eagles cut Jackson because of his "gang ties" and Aaron Hernandez backlash.

I include myself in this media criticism; I participated in a "Pardon the Interruption" discussion on the day the Eagles released Jackson that could've been more substantive and accurate with additional time to reflect and research.

There is no proof and virtually no reason to believe Kelly and the Eagles released Jackson because he is friends with Los Angeles Crips. I've reread a half-dozen times the original NJ.com story that sparked the controversial narrative and set the tone for coverage of Jackson's release.

As it relates to justifying the narrative, the story is thin at best. In its own words, it contradicts the engine driving the Eagles' decision. NJ.com wrote:

"Rather, 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, sources told NJ.com."

In the old-school journalism world, this would be considered the "nut graph," the summary of what the story would explore or prove. What caused the Eagles to sour on and decide to jettison their top receiver? His problems with Kelly? Or Jackson's unsavory friends?

This nut graph lets the reader decide, and then the story paints a weak case that Jackson's friends did him in.

From the story:

"Then, suddenly, the Eagles had even more serious concerns when they were revealed by NJ.com -- Jackson's continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010. ... Before Jackson was released, a source within the Eagles organization, who requested anonymity, put it: 'They are concerned about having him around the younger players.'"

Words matter, particularly when you're writing a story that could significantly damage a person's or an organization's reputation. "Then, suddenly, the Eagles had even more serious concerns when they were revealed by NJ.com..."

What? This makes no sense. "They" in the sentence refers to "concerns."

The Eagles could very easily want to keep Jackson away from younger players because of his lack of work ethic and lack of professionalism unrelated to his LOS ANGELES friends. The Eagles play in PHILADELPHIA. There is no professional football team in Los Angeles.

What is indisputable, based on reports of others and my own reporting, is that Jackson has been a major headache for every coaching staff since his days at Cal. He is selfish and unreliable. He has difficulty committing to a team concept. He is uninterested in practicing hard. He coasted through an entire season because he didn't want to risk injury in a contract year.

You can't be Allen Iverson on a football team. And even Iverson got run out of Philadelphia when he was still a spectacular talent because the Sixers got tired of the headache and his bad attitude.

What the Eagles did to Jackson isn't remotely unprecedented, racist or unfair. Coaches don't like lazy, disrespectful, cancerous massive headaches. Daniel Snyder does. That's why he learned nothing from his Albert Haynesworth experience and Washington was first in line to sign Jackson. Snyder is a billionaire fan with a team. Kelly is a football coach.

[+] EnlargeDeSean Jackson
AP Photo/Greg TrottDeSean Jackson salutes Eagles fans. Unfortunately, Jackson's poor work ethic and effort in practice showed a lack of respect for coaches and his fellow players.

Kelly made his name coaching at Oregon and, like most Pac-12 coaches, routinely recruited kids from Los Angeles, kids with "gang ties." This was not his first rodeo with a young player with unscrupulous friends. Every NFL and college football coach on the planet deals with this issue.

Let me expand it. America's drug war and subsequent mass incarceration of black and brown men have made it virtually impossible for the average black man to not have friends and/or family members who are gang-affiliated. Incarceration breeds gangs and gang culture. The pervasiveness of gangs is directly connected to America's decision to be the world's leader in incarceration. It's all connected.

Let me be transparent. I have friends who are in gangs. If you search hard enough on Google, you can find pictures of me socializing with them. I'm friends with gang-affiliated gangsta rappers. I've gone to dinner with them. I've made it rain with them at the club. I've made music with them. I've made no secret I'm friends with the rapper Tech N9ne. I've appeared on one of his albums.

I'm not a thug or a wannabe gangsta. I don't own a gun. I'm a pacifist. I am a critic of commercial gangsta rap music. I don't believe you change people or their flawed perspectives from a distance. You open their minds from up close, when they realize you respect and love them.

Coaches, at their core, understand this. Yes, coaches are in the profession for the fame, the winning and the money. But they also realize they can help misguided young people find a better direction. It's a process, a procedure all coaches realize oftentimes includes sticking by players with non-choirboy friends.

Jackson isn't the first supertalented athlete to reject guidance, refuse help. There are a handful of knuckleheads in every locker room who run with the wrong crowd all the time. Coaches tolerate them as long as they're relatively responsible when it comes to football activities. Practice hard, show up to meetings on time, embrace team concepts, stay out of trouble, interact respectfully with teammates, coaches and staff and a player can spend his free time kicking it with Suge Knight and Rick Ross at King of Diamonds five nights a week.

That's a fact of life in professional athletics. It's no secret.

It's irresponsible to paint Kelly and the Eagles as racist in their dealings with Jackson. It ignores obvious facts. Sherman and others have criticized the Eagles for releasing Jackson and signing Riley Cooper to a new contract. Sherman wrote that Cooper, who was caught on video saying the N-word, has ties to "racist activities."

Sherman's argument is specious. If Cooper's actions are the standard, I'd argue the overwhelming majority of us have ties to racist activity. Sherman's argument is nothing more than faux outrage to fuel his column on Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback site. He's allegedly incensed by Cooper's use of the word, but thinks it's racist for the NFL to ask black players to quit using the word in a work environment.

Someone please tell Richard Sherman the Creator gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason. We are supposed to do four times as much listening and observing as talking, especially when we are young. Our hearing and vision diminish as we age. We can always talk. Think about it.

Rather than having an unsophisticated discussion revolving around DeSean Jackson's friends, people who care about Jackson should be telling the receiver the cliché philosophy football coaches have been trying to beat into his head for a decade:

There's no "I" in team.

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

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