When reports began popping up over the past couple of weeks the Eagles were seriously trying to jettison DeSean Jackson, it was mildly surprising, although considering his salary cap impact, it wasn’t a huge shock to see the Eagles trying to free that space up. Now that it’s become apparent that his off-field behavior, specifically his alleged interaction with Los Angeles gang members, was the driving force behind the Eagles’ ultimate decision to simply cut Jackson loose.
The decision to move on from Jackson won’t be the last time a team cuts a player for off-field behavior, but is the NFL more concerned with such behavior than other leagues such as the MLB or NBA?
There’s a few things to consider when comparing the NFL to the MLB or NBA, especially in this context. First and foremost, the NFL is more visible than any other major sports league in the United States. Because of that simple fact, public image is far more important in the NFL than the MLB or NBA, and especially more important than it is in the NHL.
Still, it’s strange to see the Eagles almost fearfully cutting their best big play threat based on alleged information at best. In fact, it didn’t take long for the the Philadelphia Daily News to track down the Los Angeles Police Department for some insight. The LAPD indicated that Jackson was not involved in gang activity in L.A. nor was he a suspect in a pair of homicide investigations from 2011 and 2012.
Again, it’s about perception, not reality.
There’s no denying DeSean Jackson’s abrasiveness on the field. We all remember his college front flip in which he left the ball at the half-yard line as he was going into the endzone, and who could forget Jackson tossing the ball behind him before crossing into the endzone against the Dallas Cowboys? It’s that type of premature celebration, coupled with reports of a sketchy work ethic that lead the public to believe he’s simply an arrogant player. Even so, that arrogance isn’t uncommon at the NFL level, and it doesn’t usually warrant the dismissal of a player.
A likely explanation of the Eagles’ actions in regard to Jackson can be found just a year ago. The Patriots cut ties with Aaron Hernandez before his eventual arrest on murder charges. It’s likely that the Eagles wanted to avoid any similar scenario with one of their players.
In a positive light, high-profile stars are the bread and butter of the NFL. It’s players like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson and Richard Sherman that drive the league’s success. Players cast in a negative light can often have a negative impact on the league’s image as well. In short, teams don’t want to carry labels of employing dirty or thuggish players, and the potential for such a perception likely drove the Eagles to sever ties with their most explosive player.
This is nothing new to the NFL, and to be perfectly honest, it’s nothing new to any sports leagues. As much as teams want to win, they also want to win as heroes, not villains. After all, fans get behind the good guys in the NFL, and if it’s all about the money, the league has a huge financial stake in making sure its teams are viewed in a positive light.