The person running social media for DeSean Jackson’s podcast is asking for a public apology from Eliot Shorr-Parks, in a tweet quoted by D Jaxx himself on Monday night:

ESP has been getting totally obliterated on social for a few days now. The heat stems from the podcast DeSean did with Shady McCoy last week, where they ripped Chip Kelly and discussed the 2014 NJ.com story titled DeSean Jackson’s gang connections troubling to Eagles. We did a Friday summary explaining the entire thing, which centers mostly on the murder acquittal of an alleged Crips member who DeSean describes as a “childhood friend.” His stance is that while he “grew up in the hood” (his words), he is not a gang member and has never been involved in “such activity off the field.”

At the risk of just rewriting the same thing we wrote last week, I will share some observations:

  • Eliot is getting killed for this, but the story has a double byline. It was co-authored by A.J. Perez, who is now at Front Office Sports. It seems as though Eagles fans fans are only killing ESP because they don’t know who A.J. is. Over time, they’ve come to equate the “gang ties” article with Eliot, who joined 94 WIP four years later, in 2018.
  • A guy named Kevin Manahan was sports editor at NJ.com back then. He actually still is. If you recognize the name, it’s because he was hammered by Deadspin (when the site was good) in a 2018 story titled NJ.com’s Sports Director Sounds Like the Boss from Hell.
  • The original story was edited, but I don’t know what was changed. It says below the byline that “this story has been updated from the original version that was published shortly before the Eagles released DeSean Jackson.”
  • at the time, NJ.com and the Star-Ledger were separate newsrooms that were more or less competing
  • it appears as though very few people have actually read the story itself, or, if they did, they haven’t looked at it in the decade+ since publication.

So it’s time to re-litigate. Let’s go through the entire story and see what we think. I will drop in a few paragraphs at a time and point out some things that are worth noting:

PHILADELPHIA — Over the past several weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly had shopped wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

On its face, the decision to trade one of the NFL’s most talented players seemed curious: At 27, Jackson is coming off one of the best seasons of his career — 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Plus, he’s a playmaker who could have been expected to thrive for seasons to come in head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense.

A short intro with background information. We move on.

Yet the Eagles’ apparent decision to jettison Jackson likely had little to do with his performance on the field or a big-money contract that was slightly squeezing the team’s salary cap.

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.

And when the Eagles looked more deeply into why Jackson was missing meetings, they found that his friends were becoming a more powerful — and negative — influence in his life.

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.

Ever since New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with first-degree murder last summer, NFL franchises have been reevaluating how closely they needed to watch their players away from the field. And what Eagles executives saw in Jackson, a six-year veteran, was apparently a potential blight on the brand and a bad influence in the locker room.

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.”

Okay, so it starts with “sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles’ organization” citing generic “off-field behavior.” The word “gang” doesn’t appear until paragraph four, when they use the words “continued association” to describe Jackson’s relationship with these “reputed” Los Angeles gang members. That said, there’s nothing in here accusing of DeSean actually being in a gang himself.

THE FIRST SIGNS

DeSean Jackson was nowhere near the scene of the crime when, on Dec. 29, 2010, 14-year-old Taburi Watson flashed a rival gang sign at two men as he rode his bicycle through South Los Angeles.

The men, reportedly members of the Crips, responded to the teen’s provocative gesture by shooting him multiple times, police said. Paramedics pronounced Watson dead at the scene.

“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, however, associated with Theron Shakir, one of the two men charged with the murder. Along with co-defendant Marques Binns, Shakir is a purported member of the Crips. In addition, Shakir, known as “T-Ron,” is a rapper who recorded for Jaccpot Records, a label owned by Jackson. The two were close enough that they appear together frequently in photographs — including pictures posted by Jackson to Instagram while Shakir sat in jail awaiting trial for the teen’s execution.

Again they go with “associated” to connect Jackson and Shakir. On the podcast, DeSean doesn’t actually name Shakir, but he refers to him as “One of my childhood friends I grew up with.” He’s been consistent with this over the years.

Acting on unspecified information that Jackson might have knowledge of Shakir’s activities on the night of Watson’s murder, LAPD detective Eric Crosson said he interviewed Jackson on the phone in late 2011. Crosson wouldn’t reveal details of that conversation, but he described Jackson as “cooperative at the time.”

Crosson also told NJ.com that he reached out to the Eagles by phone in early 2011 — even before he interviewed Jackson — as a courtesy to alert them to Jackson’s connection to an alleged killer. He never received a response from the team, he said.

Important to note here that Andy Reid was still the head coach in 2011. Chip Kelly was at Oregon. However, the DA’s spokesperson says Jackson wasn’t part of the case, not a defendant, and not a witness, so the Eagles were probably justified in not responding to a “courtesy.”

The following year, the Eagles signed Jackson to a five-year, $48.5 million contract extension.

When contacted by NJ.com on Wednesday, the Eagles issued a statement that they had “no comment at this time,” and team officials would neither confirm nor deny whether anyone in the front office had spoken to Crosson about Jackson’s ties to a homicide suspect. On Thursday, a source in the organization said current front-office members had been unaware of Jackson’s links to an alleged killer.

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. (Binns was convicted and sentenced to 15 years to life.) In a photo apparently taken shortly after his release, Shakir is shown still wearing his L.A. County Jail T-shirt while someone who appears to be Jackson holds up a Jaccpot chain.

At least one person close to Jackson believes the troubling associations date back to the mid-2000’s, when his father, Bill, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“The loss of his father was devastating for him,” Raul Lara, Jackson’s former football coach at Poly High School in Long Beach, California, told NJ.com. “When his dad passed away, I think DeSean started to hang around some not-so-good people.”

The way DeSean explained it on the podcast, he got Shakir a lawyer and Shakir ultimately “beat the case.” Jackson went with his cousin and some friends to pick Shakir up from the county jail and that’s when the picture was taken. He described Shakir as “my brother, like somebody I grew up with.” 

I found a long explanation of the case in a 2018 Binns appeal report, in which it notes that police had no suspects until Shakir’s former girlfriend, the mother of his child, came to them in 2011. It was alleged that he was part of the “Rollin 90’s gang,” which is a Crips branch or some kind of affiliated gang. Police used the information to arrest Shakir and Binns, however, the ex-girlfriend later testified that she fabricated the statements to the police. In my mind, some background on what led up to Shakir’s acquittal would have helped the story, because it’s important to know WHY the one guy was convicted but he wasn’t. That said, it should be pointed out that NJ.com published a follow up story explaining that they did reach out to Shakir, but unsuccessfully.

ANOTHER BAD CONNECTION

A little over a year after the rising NFL star was interviewed by police about his connection to Shakir, Jackson’s name once again made its way onto the desk of Detective Crosson.

This time, Jackson’s name surfaced as part of an investigation into a 2012 gang-related murder that occurred outside a South Los Angeles business where a party had taken place. The building was owned or leased by a member of Jackson’s family, police said.

During a search of the building, Crosson told NJ.com investigators found several documents belonging to Jackson, including a car title, a gun permit issued in New Jersey and credit-card receipts.

After discovering the documents, Crosson said he made multiple attempts to contact Jackson by phone, but never was able to connect with the wide receiver. Crosson added that Jackson was never considered a suspect in the crime.

Despite Jackson’s name having come up in connection with two gang-related murders involving Crips, Crosson said police have no hard evidence that Jackson is a member of the gang, which was formed in the late 1960’s and has an estimated 35,000 members across the country.

Let’s highlight part of that last sentence there – “police have no hard evidence that Jackson is a member of the gang.” It’s noted right there that Jackson was not a suspect. We’re talking about documents that were found in a building “owned or leased” by a family member. I’ve looked for articles describing this second incident, but can’t find much of anything.

Crosson said, however, the Jackson routinely flashes Crip gang signs in photos on social media — and even on television during an NFL game.

“You don’t want to see anybody throwing up gang signs like he did in the Redskins game last year,” Crosson said. “Those were neighborhood Crip gang signs and he flashed them during a game. He may not be affiliated with the gang, but they don’t [ordinarily] take kindly to those not in the gang throwing up those gang signs.”

Last season, Jackson appeared to throw up the hand gesture in the face of Washington Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall after a reception in the Eagles’ season-opener. Jackson also can be seen contorting his fingers to make a “C” — another Crips sign — in a music video he shot with former fellow Poly High student Snoop Dogg. Jackson flashed it yet again while wearing an Anaheim Angels hat.

Even the name of Jackson’s music label, Jaccpot Records, has not gone unnoticed by authorities. Police brought it up to Jackson, Crosson said, when he was interviewed in the investigation of the Watson homicide.

The two C’s in Jaccpot, cops believed, were symbolic. Crips avoid putting a “C” next to a “K” because in gangspeak, that stands for “Crip Killer.” Crosson said Jackson explained the spelling by saying the Internet domain name for Jackpot “was taken.”

“DeSean Jackson is not a gang member,” said EAG Management CEO and founder Denise White, Jackson’s agent. “He’s far, far from it.”

White, who would not make Jackson available for an interview, offered no further comment.

D Jax denied throwing up gang signs, but note that it’s the LAPD detective saying this on the record. It’s not NJ.com speculation, it’s the guy actually being quoted.

CLEAN RECORD?

Despite his connections with reputed gang members and police interest in talking to him in connection with two homicides, Jackson’s supporters say he has otherwise comported himself as a model citizen.

Through court records, however, NJ.com uncovered a previously unreported arrest that occurred in September 2009. Jackson was pulled over for having illegally tinted windows, police said, and during the course of the traffic stop, officers said they discovered marijuana in the vehicle.

Jackson was arrested for possession of marijuana while driving, disturbing the peace and operating a car with materials that obstruct or reduce a driver’s view, according to court documents. The marijuana and illegally tinted windows charges were dropped as part of the plea deal and Jackson pleaded guilty to a disturbing the peace charge in April 2010.

Both the Eagles and a spokesman for the NFL, reached Thursday, declined to comment on the arrest.

This is basic contextual addition. You go through someone’s record to see if you find anything relevant. That said, marijuana possession, disturbing the peace, and driving with tinted windows are nothing burger charges. They aren’t even worth contacting the Eagles for a quote.

Since joining the Eagles in 2008, Jackson — a three-time Pro Bowl player — has been an active member of the Philadelphia community and has been involved in several charities. He has been particularly active in campaigning against youth bullying.

Lara, his former high school coach who now is head coach at Warren High School in Downey, Calif., said Jackson has been nothing but friendly when the wide receiver has visited Poly High during NFL bye weeks. Lara added that Jackson has even been willing to bring his anti-bullying message to Warren.

“As a player, he was a great kid for me,” Lara said. “I didn’t have any issues. I loved his leadership. He had a chip on his shoulder and, as a coach, you like to see that in a great athlete. He had something to prove.

“I was a little worried about him after his father passed. I know his mother tried to get involved [in his life], but I haven’t seen any indication [Jackson is involved with gangs] outside of him starting up his rap label. Athletes like to portray a tough image with gangsters and whatever else. Maybe he’s playing into that. That’s a part of him that I never really saw.”

Jackson was actually a crime victim earlier this year as burglars made off with an unknown amount of cash, an estimated $125,000 in jewelry, and two handguns from his South Philly home. Jackson disputed reports that $250,000 in cash was stolen from a safe inside the house and offered a $50,000 reward for information on the crime.

When asked about Jackson’s status at the NFL owners’ meetings Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said Jackson is “still under contract for us” and “until there’s anything to report on our players, that’s where we are now.”

Head coach Chip Kelly also dodged questions regarding rumors about trading or releasing Jackson, saying on Wednesday, “I like DeSean, but we’re always going to do what’s best for the organization.”

Reading through that whole thing again, it doesn’t seem nearly as incendiary as people have made it out to be. I do think it took on a life of its own and snowballed a bit over the course of 10+ years. It should be reiterated, however, that nowhere in the story does it actually accuse DeSean of being a Crip, it simply reiterates some version of the word “association” with guys suspected of being in the gang.

The Shakir portion of the story is interesting, and most relevant, but the second example is weak. One of the earlier paragraphs talks of “Jackson’s continued association with reputed Los Angeles street gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010,” but the second of these homicides is barely described. No names, no background, nothing. A murder took place outside of a building that a family member is either owning or leasing, and they found documents? Okay. That’s flimsy.

DeSean’s explanation through all of this is that he grew up in South Central Los Angeles and is a product of his environment. He knows guys that got into bad stuff, and was friends with some of these people at one time. He talks on the podcast about knowing all sorts of folks either involved or adjacent, but he’s always disassociated himself from criminal gang activity, which, again, the article does not accuse him of. He noted in an interview with Stephen A Smith that the article brings up background information that he “felt the club and the organization knew about previous years before that.”

He said this at the time:

“Do I know friends that are out there involved? Yes. I try to, you know, stay away from them. I don’t try to intervene and do things of any nature that has anything to do with negative activities, but I’m definitely aware and know certain gang members. But as far as me being affiliated, or me being a gang member, never not have once been. Never had any affiliation of going out and doing things that is against the law. I always felt that I’m a product of my environment, but at the same time, I’m the guy that wants to go out there and do things the right way.”

He went on to say that earlier in his career, he was surrounding himself with the wrong people, but at the time of his release it hadn’t been a thing for a few years.

Admittedly, I don’t remember how the story was received 10 years ago. I do remember it being a HUGE deal, but reading it again, it doesn’t actually accuse DeSean of anything other than some loose connections to purported gang members. It says he was “associated” with people who were involved with the Crips, which leads me to what I think is a good point from Tim:

Maybe changing out a few key words in the story would have helped.

In the decade since, the only D Jax transgression of any sort is the Louis Farrakhan 2020 flap. We were the first website to write about that, before everybody else piled on a few days later. The CliffsNotes version of the story is that DeSean apologized after sharing an Antisemitic quote incorrectly attributed to Adolf Hitler. In lauding Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam founder, he was supporting a guy with a history of saying ridiculous and offensive things, and the Eagles, notably having a Jewish owner and general manager, penalized him for it.

That’s it, though. No other issues. People seem to have this thought that the “gang ties” story was fed to NJ.com by the Eagles or Chip Kelly to provide a reason to move on from D Jax, and that an aggressive NJ.com ran with it, but nobody is ever going to be able to prove or disprove that. I definitely would have changed the title, though. “DeSean Jackson’s gang connections troubling to Eagles” isn’t ideal. Most people only read the headline anyway, so do a header and sub header, or just go back to that word “association” and be consistent through the headline and into the body of the story.

For what it’s worth, ESP, Perez, and Manahan do have on-record quotes from a couple of people. They have the LAPD detective and the former football coach, so this is not some exercise in hiding strictly behind anonymous sources. I don’t necessarily see it as a hit piece or a hatchet job, though when you have a reputation for doing hot takes and just saying shit to say shit, then obviously Eagles fans are going to feel a certain way. You’re not getting any retroactive benefit of the doubt, and people will believe that you would publish iffy material for the purposes of clout chasing. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know, but you’ll hear a lot of Eagles fans allege that Eliot parlayed this story into a beat writing career, and it’s something he’s going to have to deal with for as long as he’s in the media scene. WIP will take heat as well, even though ESP wasn’t their employee in 2014. As I mentioned above, ESP and Perez both moved on to bigger outlets and Manahan remains in his editor role at NJ.com. How much did each of them contribute to this particular piece? Only the three of them know.

I do think the examples used within the story aren’t the strongest, which begs the question – did this need to be written in the first place? It’s not the deepest dive, more of a one-level-below-the-surface examination. Regardless, Jackson did rejoin the Eagles five years later, so there obviously was not some lingering organizational animosity. That doesn’t mean releasing him was the right thing to do (seems like Chip wanted him gone regardless), but the team also said “gang ties” was not the reason for that, so like most things in life, it comes down to what you want to believe and who you want to believe.