By now I’m sure you’ve read or at least heard about this article on NJ.com. It’s been sent around all afternoon and used as Exhibit A in the case for why the Eagles shockingly cut DeSean Jackson today.
This article is bullshit.
The premise is that DeSean Jackson has strong connections to the Crips gang, and that the influence of those gang connections has been of increasing concern to the Eagles organization. It takes only a few paragraphs for the writers to drop Aaron Hernandez’s name, the implication being that the Eagles cut ties with Jackson before he turned into the next Hernandez.
This is also bullshit.
Early on in the article, the writer devote 483 words under the subheadline “The First Signs,” to Jackson’s connection to a 2010 gang-related murder in South Los Angeles. This murder connection serves as the article’s primary source material for its overall thesis, and this is a problem.
“‘DeSean Jackson was not part of the case,’ Jane Robison, a spokesman for the LA District Attorney’s Office, told NJ.com. ‘He was not a charged defendant. He was not a witness.’”
Jackson was in no way involved with the crime. He was not even particularly involved in the investigation of the crime. He was friends with one of the two suspects, Theron “Trezzy” Shakir, and Jackson received a single phone call over the course of the investigation to see if he might know anything about the whereabouts of one of the suspects on the night of the murder. By the detective’s account, Jackson was “cooperative.”
The writers go to great pains to draw the connections between Jackson and Shakir, and they are pretty effective at it. They detail Shakir’s ties to Jackson’s rap label and point out that while Shakir sat in jail awaiting trial for murder, Jackson posted captions on Instagram like “Free Trezzy.” They even reached out to the Eagles front office: “On Thursday, a source in the organization said current front-office members had been unaware of Jackson’s links to an alleged killer.”
But 355 words into the 483 devoted to Jackson’s connection to the homicide, it all unravels in one sentence: “Shakir, who was, in fact, acquitted of Watson’s murder and a related gun charge in January 2013, spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial.”
Here we are, having just read 355 words about why Jackson’s connection to this alleged murderer was so troubling, and then the Shyamalan twist comes that the alleged murderer was innocent all along. In reality, Jackson is friends the one guy whom the courts have proven was definitely not responsible for the gang-related murder. With that knowledge, the “Free Trezzy” caption seems less like Jackson defending a cold-blooded killer and more like a guy who wants justice for his friend, who is falsely accused of murder and has been sitting in jail for more than a year despite his innocence.
The next section, “Another Bad Connection,” is aptly named. The ties between Jackson and a second gang-related homicide are even more tenuous in this case than the first. It goes like this: There was a gang-related shooting outside a business owned or leased by one of Jackson’s family members. That’s all the detail we get about the crime, which seems suspiciously open-ended, especially considering the writers’ prior attempt to lead readers to an incorrect conclusion. They do tell us that there were some documents belonging to Jackson inside the business (car title, gun permit and receipts), which would be relevant evidence if you were trying to prove that Jackson had at one point in his life been inside that business, and not trying to prove that he was present for or had knowledge of a murder that had taken place outside of it. We also learn that detectives attempted to contact Jackson but never got in touch with him. It should strike no one as odd that Jackson did not return the calls of the same police department that wrongly arrested and jailed his friend the last time he talked to them. Nevertheless, there’s ostensibly enough circumstantial evidence there for the writers (or the Eagles organization) to implicitly connect Jackson to yet another gang-related murder by using non sequiters to make massive leaps in logic, like they’re playing the Kevin Bacon game with DeSean Jackson and random facts.
The most troubling connection in this story is not between Jackson and the Crips, but between the article’s writers and the Philadelphia Eagles. The article bases many of its claims on “Eagles sources,” the story itself was published just minutes before the team announced Jackson was cut. Almost immediately, the question shifted from “Why the hell did the Eagles cut DeSean?!” to “Did you read that NJ.com article yet?”
Look, DeSean Jackson is an asshole. He doesn’t get along with teammates. People in the front office hate him. He has ambiguous ties to ambiguously bad individuals from his hometown of south L.A. He constantly wants a bigger contract.
But none of these are new issues, neither for Jackson in particular or the NFL in general. You could write a story at least as “damning” as the one on NJ.com about 100 different players in the NFL or any other sport. It’s easy to paint a guy in a bad light if the rules allow circumstantial evidence, hearsay, unnamed sources and carefully worded non-libelous implications. But the rules don’t allow that. It’s irresponsible as a journalist and immoral as a human being to accuse a guy of horrible behavior without any real evidence to do so.
I have no real problem with the Eagles decision to cut Jackson. My problem is with the way it was done. As long as wild, baseless accusations are fair game, here’s what I think happened: I think Chip Kelly believes every player is expendable in his system (and he may not be wrong). I think Jackson’s latest demand for a new contract demand finally pushed the Eagles’ brass over the edge, the situation became toxic, and suddenly Jackson found himself out of get-out-of-being-an-asshole free cards, and so the Eagles decided to cut ties with him. To this point, it’s all fair play.
But the Eagles weren’t going to get fair value in return for Jackson, and so they knew that whether they traded him or cut him, they’d have a furious fanbase demanding to know why they would cut a Pro Bowl receiver. They risked undoing all the good will Chip Kelly built up in his first 12 months on the job. And so, they fed NJ.com a story that allowed them to not only justify Jackson’s release, but come out of everything looking like a responsible franchise taking a preemptive stand against the next Aaron Hernandez, AND make Jackson sound so toxic that few if any contenders would even contemplate signing him. In one move, they fired Jackson, damaged his professional future and made him sound like the next NFL-star-turned-murderer when really he’s just another asshole who plays football and wants a new contract. It requires some Frank-Underwood-level scheming by the Eagles and some dogshit judgment by the editors at NJ.com, but it’s a lot easier to make the case against the Eagles than it is to make NJ.com’s case against DeSean.