DeSean Jackson had a chance to outright deny that he flashes gang signs on the field and through social media. He didn’t. He had a chance to deny that he associates with gang members. He didn’t. He had a chance to say he was a model football player with the Eagles last year. Again, he didn’t.
Jackson, the three-time Pro Bowl wideout, sat down with ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith for about 30 minutes Friday to discuss his abrupt release from the Eagles on Friday after six seasons in Philadelphia and his Wednesday signing with the rival Redskins.
The interview, which aired on SportsCenter, covered a wide variety of topics. Many of the questions centered on Jackson’s connection to alleged gang members, which was detailed in an NJ.com report shortly before the Eagles released him.
“Do I know friends that are out there involved? Yes,” Jackson said. “I try to, you know, stay away from it. I’m definitely aware and know certain gang members, but as far as me being affiliated or me being a gang member? Never have I once been.
“Never had any affiliation of going out and doing things that are against the law. I always felt I’m a product of my environment, but at the same time I’m the guy who wants to go out there and do things the right way.”
But the seven-year pro also admitted that he uses hand signals that resonate with gang culture, that he has occasionally arrived late at meetings and that he’s “not perfect.”
When asked if he associates directly with gang members, Jackson interestingly said, “Not if they’re doing negative things.”
Here’s a breakdown of other topics Jackson discussed with Smith:
Jackson said he was “definitely hurt” when the Eagles released him and said Eagles fans “embraced me like no other in Philadelphia.”
In a phone call, Jackson said, Kelly explained that the team was “moving forward.”
“It was basically like, ‘We’re moving forward. I think it’s best for the team. I think it’s best for yourself.’ I was sitting here, waiting for a reason why, but that’s basically all I can really say what the conversation was.”
Later, the receiver added, “I got off the phone and I was like, ‘Are you sure that’s it?’ We hung up and that was it.”
The NJ.com story
Jackson called the story “disrespectful” and outdated, providing information about his background and associations that he said the team already knew about.
Asked later if he believed the Eagles leaked the story to the website, Jackson first said, “I would hope not.” Smith pushed, asking for “yes” or “no.”
“That’s a no,” Jackson said.
In the aftermath of the NJ.com report, Smith asked Jackson what he’d like the public to understand about him.
“The message I would like to relay is: Do I come from a rough neck of the woods? Was I raised around that [gangs]? Yes, truly,” he said. “Do I intervene? Do I do the things gang members do? No, I don’t. Do I want to see or do I want to help guys that I feel do negative things and want to make a difference in their life, want to see them change? Yes.”
Jackson noted that he’s one of very few from his neighborhood to succeed in professional sports, so he shares his success with them.
“It’s almost like a good feeling to have that [feeling] where you made it,” he said. “It’s like, for my boys back home, I’m doing this for y’all. I was one of the ones that made it.”
Which segues into another topic:
Jackson didn’t deny that he uses hand signals, whether in the heat of competition or on Instagram, that resemble gang signs. But he said the gestures are acknowledgements to friends back home.
Smith asked if the public is wrong to assume he’s throwing up gang signs. Jackson’s answer got a little murky.
“They’re seeing what they’re seeing,” Jackson said. “The perception of signs is whatever people want to make it out to be. I know how easily a color or hat you’re wearing and all have an association with a gang. That’s the environment I come from. My guys I grew up with, we have signs we throw up to each other. My sign I’m throwing up is to connect me and my boys.”
Smith asked Jackson to respond to fan criticism, based on recent reports, that the receiver didn’t put the team first.
“To that I say since Day 1 since I entered Philadelphia, since I stepped into the locker for the first [time], I put it on the line for my teammates,” he said. “I feel like I’m always a team guy. Never have not once been a team guy. It’s not an individual goal that I go out there and catch these passes or score these touchdowns and at the end of the day I’m winning, it’s DeSean Jackson winning. I don’t think that’s real. I don’t think that’s right.”
Smith asked Jackson to address a CBSPhilly report that surfaced Friday citing an unnamed former Eagles teammate who criticized Jackson’s attitude and lack of professionalism (see story).
“Man, it’s an allegation once again,” Jackson said. “We’re dealing with someone who has an opinion. How much of that truth of the opinion is real?”
Smith asked about Jackson’s professionalism. Jackson said he hasn’t always been perfect, but he has learned from past mistakes, which also segues into another topic.
Jackson addressed Smith’s question about the receiver’s close friends and if they’re leading him down the wrong path, as reports have suggested.
“Early on in my career, don’t get me wrong, I feel like I was hanging around or surrounding myself with the wrong individuals,” he admitted, “But that was on me to understand and make that change in my life. So now where I’m at, in my seventh year, speaking for right now today, it’s not true.”
Jackson explained that his father’s 2009 death to pancreatic cancer took away his “backbone” and that he felt “lost” and strayed from his path, but added that in the last “two, three years, I’ve matured to the utmost.”
Regarding his relationship with the Eagles’ coach, Jackson refused to disparage Kelly and said he felt they had a good relationship.
“I felt everything went good last year,” he said. “I had one of the best years of my career, so it’s no negativity there. I’m not here to badmouth him or say anything to put dirt on his name.”
Smith asked Jackson about his relationship with Reid, who drafted Jackson with a 2008 second-round pick. He called Reid “a father figure.”
“He embraced me as like almost as a son,” Jackson said. “I kind of supported him and his situation, too, with his kids and things like that. Me and Andy Reid, still to this day, throughout the whole process he was a shoulder I learned on through this.”