DeSean Jackson's release by the Philadelphia Eagles was the big story of the offseason, and everyone had an opinion on why it happened. Chip Kelly finally talked to the press about it a month after Jackson's release.
"We just wanted to go in a different direction. It had nothing to do with any article. Purely football," Kelly said, per the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch.
The Eagles cut Jackson last month shortly after an NJ.com article claimed the receiver had gang ties. While Kelly said the team didn't release Jackson because of the publication, the coach couldn't explain why the cut came so soon after the story, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The gang relationships angle was played up at the time of his release and it still gets talked about when Jackson's release is brought up. The other reasoning is that DeSean Jackson didn't buy in to Chip Kelly's system like fellow WR Jason Avant, who was also released by the Eagles after last season. Jackson's contract, which was said to be prohibitive to the Eagles and to their attempts to trade Jackson during the offseason. Questions about his personal and business relationships have also consistently been in the news. He has been involved in a legal battle with former agent Drew Rosenhaus over loans and fees that Jackson claims were illegal inducements which don't have to be repaid.
Jackson was recently interviewed by ESPN magazine and was featured on the cover of their Comeback issue. He talked about his past, growing up in South Central LA. His mother Gayle, and brother Byron, were also interviewed for the story. Byron has been helping to guide DeSean's career since he was a young boy, and also filmed Jackson's documentary, The Making of a Father's Dream, about his path to the NFL and relationship with their father, Bill, who pushed both of them towards NFL careers.
Jackson and his brother on growing up in their neighborhood, and how his athleticism kept him away from joining a gang.
"When I was young, I hung out with and knew certain people who were involved in certain things," says Jackson at the lunch table, that tic rising to the surface again. "But at the same time, they knew I played sports, so they supported me in playing sports."
"It's the same story with most kids growing up in the inner city," Byron says. "There's that one kid who's athletic as heck and everybody sees he's destined to be great. So the guys involved in mischievous things want to stay cool with him, but at the same time they don't want to derail him."
In Jackson's interactions with "certain people" who did "certain things" during his childhood, there was an unwritten agreement: DeSean was going places, and so he had their blessing to avoid the paths they'd chosen. In return, he would not look down on them or turn his back on them. In fact, if you ask Gayle Jackson, she'll tell you DeSean's loyalty is one of his most frustrating qualities.
"Those guys gravitated toward him because he had structure in his life," she says. "A lot of time I was trying to chase these cats away. I told him it would catch up with him and that people don't understand, so he should leave those guys alone. He told me, 'Mom, you can't treat people like that.'"
Jackson's use of gang signs in games, videos, and social media.
The other thing that's bound to arise in any discussion of Jackson's background is that he throws up gang signs in pictures on social media, in his rap videos and during games. "Those were neighborhood Crip gang signs," an LA police detective told NJ.com, referencing some hand movements he'd seen Jackson make once in a game against the Redskins. While Jackson won't call them gang signs, he will admit to throwing up "hand gestures" in a display of that stubborn loyalty his mother describes. "If I score a touchdown or make a play and my boys at home can see me throwing up the area we're from, that's me showing them love," he says. "They weren't fortunate enough to make it where I'm at. All my friends wanted to be in the NFL growing up, but they weren't able to do that and I was. That doesn't mean I forgot about them. They're my boys, I grew up with them, and I'm going to give them love."
Lessons learned from getting released by the only NFL team he's ever played for, and the pressure he's facing moving forward with Washington.
Jackson says the best lesson he has learned over the past few months is that "your private time is your private time, and you don't always have to show people what you're doing" on Instagram and the like. Otherwise, he's going to stick to the formula that's been working for him for years, ever since Team Jackson came together like Voltron to build him into the man he is today, ever since Bill Jackson looked at a 5-year-old no heavier than a sack of flour and told him he was going to be an NFL star.
When I ask Jackson if he feels pressure to prove himself in Washington this year, a burden to silence his doubters -- from those who say he's too small to those who say he's a diva to those who say he's a gang-affiliated liability -- he smiles. "I don't feel no pressure, man," he says. "I been feeling pressure since I was a little kid, since I was walking down the street in Crenshaw, Calif. The pressure on this side is a little better."