I’ve always felt that the mainstream media gets too close to their subjects and, as a result, often unintentionally creates an impenetrable bubble through which real news can’t enter. It’s not a problem unique to sports coverage. It happens in news and politics as well, when reporters get caught up in statements, “official sources” and symbiotic relationships with their subjects. In sports, mainstream reporter sources are often coaches, front office execs, players, agents, friends of players and assorted hangers-on. For the most part, this sort of thing is fine for providing adequate coverage of games and players. But sometimes the story goes deeper. Sometimes the story has to do with the business of sports, legal issues, personality conflicts and other things that are rarely addressed through conventional reporting means. Things which many (certainly not all) mainstream sports reporters are ill-equipped to handle because, often since college, they’ve existed in a series of indistinguishable bubbles that have prevented them from ever becoming familiar with the real-world things that most of us experience every day. For them it’s always been about writing the next great game recap or HOT SPORTS TAKE.
I say all this because the DeSean Jackson situation has become a perfect example of this phenomenon at work. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some great reporting from many of the Eagles beat guys, some of whom sniffed out trouble weeks and even months ago. I’ll even go as far as to say that, with the exception of Les Bowen and Ike Reese (who were basically willing to trumpet whatever DeSean’s “associates” were telling them), the mainstream media did a great job of reporting that there were issues between the Eagles and DeSean. But while most of those guys were sitting at a press conference yesterday listening to Mark Sanchez talk about second chances and being a good teammate, one reporter, Eliot Shorr-Parks, from what most would consider to be a low-profile outlet when it comes to Eagles coverage, was putting the finishing touches on the biggest local sports story of the year. When the story broke, at 12:05 p.m., it was hard to avoid the dismissive nature with which many of the more established sports reporters responded. Somehow this story was filled with innuendo and barely-tenable conclusions, not the piles of misinformation from “sources” and “associates” that had been printed in recent weeks
Today, Bowen, Jeff McLane, Reuben Frank and others lined up to minimize the story’s impact on DeSean’s release. They’re probably right, too. It was happening anyway. Their argument is that it gave the Eagles a justification to cut DeSean. But, to me, the more likely scenario is that it rendered DeSean untradable and the Eagles had no choice but to release him. That part of it doesn’t matter, though. What’s more interesting is that all of a sudden these gang associations, which were never? written about before by the local media, somehow became inconsequential details. The story, once again, shaped by league, team and player sources, all of which have a horse in this unfortunate race.
After no trade offers, according to multiple NFL sources, the Eagles were faced with only two prospects – releasing Jackson or bringing back a player Kelly didn’t want. The NJ.com report provided the team with the perfect opportunity to soften criticism for cutting a superstar in the prime of his career while getting nothing in return.
So rather than release Jackson on Wednesday, when they initially were contacted by NJ.com, they waited two days and cut him less than an hour after the story was posted. It’s fair to wonder how much earlier the Eagles knew of the story and whether they were the impetus for its writing.
McLane does a good job, but he’s usually the guy to whom the Eagles leak stories. It’s a pot-kettle thing implying that they did so here. Plus, would they really go to NJ.com for a story this big? Doubtful.
But it’s also fair to wonder whether there is much more to this story than the typical case of a coach not liking a player. Or if there was yet another off-the-field incident which raised the organization’s antennae. This is the thread that most reporters are ignoring because it’s outside their bubble. No, it HAS to be something related to football. It has to be something we understand!
In fact, it’s Mike Sielski, the former Wall Street Journal reporter, who probably displayed the deepest understanding of what might have happened.
And then there’s Reuben Frank, a great covererererer of all things football. For real, I love Roob when it comes to breaking down the game. But this isn’t his wheelhouse. Though he acknowledged other possibilities, he, too, focused on the football part of the story:
DeSean Jackson has never been arrested for anything more serious than marijuana possession and driving with tinted windows, according to the NJ.com report, and those charges came five years ago and were eventually dropped. He’s never tested positive for a banned substance. What’s the worst thing he’s done in six years with the Eagles? He was suspended for one game in 2011 for missing a team meeting.
What he has done is make big plays more often than anybody in the 81-year history of the franchise. Game after game, year after year.
Jackson grew up in a section of Los Angeles where he was surrounded every day by gangs and crime. He rose up above all that to become a multiple Pro Bowl receiver with a charity foundation that raises money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed his dad.
And so far, the worst thing I’ve learned about Jackson is that he has close friends who are active gang members. Which really means that he’s still friends with the people he grew up with in L.A.
“He has close friends who are active gang members,” with whom he spends a large portion of his free time, with whom he runs a record label with a naming convention that is based off a gang thing. Perhaps some of those same people broke into his house a mile away from the NovaCare Complex and stole his gun. Is that DeSean’s fault? Maybe not. But it’s literally bringing the problem home with you. Too close to the Eagles’ home.
As for that line about DeSean’s charity? Well, it’s wrong. This is often exactly why athletes have charities (besides, you know, the tax deduction). As I wrote yesterday, there’s no record that The DeSean Jackson Foundation has ever donated money to “fight pancreatic cancer.” But digging that deep is, admittedly, not something that should be expected of a football writer. Again, it’s why players have charities– so when something goes wrong, someone will step up and point toward their great work in the community. All these players, they’re so philanthropic, I tell you!
And then there’s Bowen and Reese, perhaps the biggest offenders of taking the most surface level story available. Bowen, who seems genuinely upset that the Eagles won’t release to him a carefully-crafted statement, has spent the past 24 hours downplaying the gang angle and tweeting and retweeting anyone and everyone willing to do the same. Hell, he’s even an honorary PR rep for Gayle Jackson:
Yet, for some reason, the Eagles decided to cut their star receiver despite all these reporters and tweeters who think it’s a bad decision.
Look, it sucks that the Eagles released DeSean Jackson. He’s a great player. He is… the man. But all along it’s been so painfully obvious that there is way more to this story than we knew or know. The NJ.com report yesterday gave us a taste of what that more may be. But since no one can produce DeSean’s official “I support the Crips” card (never mind the gang signs and the LAPD detective who spoke on the record about the obvious gang ties), many of the people in position to explain to us what really happened will keep waiting for their official sources to tell them something that makes football sense.