- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

DeSean Jackson was born in Hollywood, then made for the NFL by fate, family and friends while growing up in South Central Los Angeles. There are people who are from there and those who most decidedly are not.

Gangs fester where Jackson lived. Tattoos flood his body, including the phrase “Fear none,” which runs vertically on the side of his neck, tucked just behind an ear lobe. He’s often decorated by gold. He eats birthday cakes that are designed to look like a stack of $100 bills.

This persona makes him appear a product of central casting. It also makes the narrative about who he is easy. Perhaps, too much so.

PHOTOS: The faces of DeSean Jackson

When the Philadelphia Eagles released Jackson in March after the wide receiver’s best season as a professional, the stories — rumors and flat-out lies to some — came. Jackson’s loyalty to his inner-city friends appeared to have finally caught up to him. The Eagles were worried about Jackson’s gang ties, the stories said, and they sent him away.

Here is where Jackson, signed by the Redskins five days later, becomes an unwitting social experiment. Character assumptions are made. Tie-ins are reached for. There is some smoke, but the fire, it won’t take. Yet, the smoke continues to puff. So, he shuts down. He knows this is an avalanche he can’t push back at. Interviews are few. Answers are not forthcoming.

Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) runs past Cleveland Browns strong safety Donte Whitner (31) in the first quarter as the Washington Redskins play the Cleveland Browns in NFL preseason football at FedExField, Landover, Md., Monday, August 18, 2014. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) runs past Cleveland Browns strong ... more >

“Sometimes, things that you go through growing up or witness can have you in a shell and kind of be like distant from a lot of people,” Jackson said. “That’s the biggest thing I can say about coming from the areas we come from. Lot of times it’s hard to trust people. You have to get an understanding for what people’s motives are. It’s just a part of growing and living. A part of life.”

SEE ALSO: Jay Gruden takes unorthodox path to NFL head coaching job

Once the gang stories attributed to anonymous sources died down, others from anonymous players sprang. News stories said Jackson was a bad teammate who did not buy into the specific and somewhat radical ways of new Eagles coach Chip Kelly. It wasn’t the gangs that led to his release, they said. It was his selfishness.

Which leaves Jackson, a three-time Pro-Bowler and one of the fastest receivers in the league, a curiosity. He has a chance to redefine his public persona while with the Redskins. Silence and touchdowns can help get him there. It’s unclear if he cares to.

‘That stuff was totally not true’

“After careful consideration during this offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles have decided to part ways with DeSean Jackson. The team informed him of his release today.”

The statement was simple and fully loaded. For the first time, Jackson was pushed aside by a football team.

The anonymous pounding followed. During that time, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was in Los Angeles for promotional work. Concerned, and interested in recruiting, he went to see Jackson and had dinner at his house.

“He got cut by Philly and they were spreading lies about him,” Griffin said. “We sat there and had dinner and talked about everything. I could see the hurt and everything in his face. DeSean is a guy from L.A., an area with a little bit of edge. I mean it’s basically the ‘hood. People are afraid to say it, but it’s the ‘hood.”

The reports about Jackson would have angered and stunned his father, Bill.

Jackson is the product of his hard-driving father who started pushing him toward athletics when he was scrawny and 5 years old. Bill Jackson pushed his son through high school, when DeSean starred at prep powerhouse Long Beach Polytechnic, then was a thorn in the side of California coach Jeff Tedford when Jackson was in college.

Story Continues →