On Friday March 28 the Philadelphia Eagles cut wide receiver DeSean Jackson for a combination of off field issues, but apparently the last straw (and what got everyone’s attention) was a report that he was associated with LA gang members (per NJ.com). My first reaction was that this was smart and good for the Eagles. I thought about the Patriots dealing with tight end Aaron Hernandez, still in jail awaiting trial for murder, suspected to be related to gang activity, and the Broncos who lost cornerback Darrent Williams early New Year’s day in 2007 in a fatal shooting after an encounter with gang members. I’m still not clear on what happened when the highly skilled wide receiver Plaxico Burris reportedly accidentally shot himself in the leg one night out at a club in New York City. And so it seems to me that the Eagles are smart to drop Jackson before serious problems happen. So it seems.
On Wednesday, April 2, I listened as Colin Cowherd read portions of a message from Richard Sherman that appears on Monday Morning Quarterback (http://mmqb.si.com/2014/04/02/richard-sherman-desean-jackson/). He and Jackson apparently grew up together in Watts (an inner-city Las Angeles neighborhood). Sherman argues that it is likely most athletes who grew up in inner-city neighborhoods have “gang-ties”, meaning that someone they know is in a gang. He says “I can’t help who I grew up with” and goes on to say that often these people are like family, being there in times of need for emotional support. Sherman further asks the reader how it is that Jackson is expected to turn his back on these guys just because he is now successful. That gives me pause. I found Cowherd’s interview with Hall of Famer Cris Carter interesting as well. He makes similar points. http://espn.go.com/espnradio/play?id=10722060 (Note: for those who don’t know who Richard Sherman is, he is one of the best NFL cornerbacks, currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks, formerly of Stanford University. He is also the player who got worked up as Erin Andrews was trying to interview him after the NFC championship versus San Francisco.)
Crime in professional sports worries me, but all crimes, not just those believed to be gang related. I don’t believe Michael Vick’s dog fighting business that landed him in jail for nearly 2 years was gang related. Von Miller missed 6 weeks of the Broncos’ 2013 season for several infractions. Ray Rice was just accused of domestic violence…one of an uncountable number of athletes charged with this crime. So perhaps crime issues are bigger than gang association, and perhaps the Eagles and other NFL teams should put more energy into the entire crime issue. I do understand the severity of the potential of gang involvement, but some of these crimes, like domestic violence, are equally severe. I also know that Jackson had other off field issues and was not working well with new head coach Chip Kelly, but Jackson’s release set the stage for this conversation. We now wait to see if there is more to this story as Jackson was swiftly picked up by Washington on April 2.
In his message, Sherman also finds irony in the reaction to Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay’s March 16 DUI arrest. Irsay was apparently found with some serious cash along with controlled substances. His problems also include apparently a woman being found dead in a condo he gave her. Irsay apparently acknowledged prior drug use and rehab time in his younger days. The challenge before the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is how to handle this case, given the strict approach he has taken with players. I wonder if we fans will demand equal punishment be given. I feel like this story has already lost attention and yet if it is as serious as it appears, I believe it should get as much, if not MORE air time as those of the players. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/04/06/jim-irsay-colts-owner-troubles-beyond-march-arrest/7382055/
Am I naïve to think that athletes (and owners) should be able to keep themselves on the straight side of the law? I wonder what the NFL is doing to help these individuals make better choices, besides penalizing them after-the-fact? All good leaders know that penalties are not the best way to change behavior. I also wonder, though, if this is a deeper issue. This topic will take much more thought and observation, thus I will leave this writing – to be continued…