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July 13, 2020

John McMullen: With DeSean Jackson, Eagles got boxed in by their own precedent

Opinion Eagles

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Jeffrey-Lurie_071320_usat Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

Every problem in life is a little bit different, but there are always precedents set when solving them and often the context of any individual situation gets lost in the shadow of how it was handled.

In our legal system, precedents are so important that they establish rules used by courts or other judicial bodies to decide future cases with similar issues or facts. The same holds true in the court of public opinion.

Take DeSean Jackson, the veteran Eagles receiver who now knows his fate for posting anti-Semitic Instagram posts conjuring up the images of Adolf Hitler.

The Eagles “penalized” Jackson for conduct detrimental to the team late Friday afternoon, which turned out to be a financial hit, according to a source.

"Today we have penalized DeSean for conduct detrimental to the team," the organization said in a statement. "He accepted these consequences and apologized. In our many conversations with him, it has also been made clear that this is only the beginning. We have discussed a concrete plan for how we and he can heal moving forward. He understands that in order to remain on the team, he must also commit to supporting his words with actions.”

Jeffrey Lurie, who ultimately made this decision, likely never got very far on his list of pros and cons for what had to be a deeply personal issue for him considering, in the irony to end all ironies, Lurie's new production company — called Play/Action Pictures — is putting the finishing touches on its inaugural project entitled, “The Meaning of Hitler.”

“We couldn’t be prouder that ‘The Meaning of Hitler’ is the first completed film made by our new documentary production company, Play/Action Pictures. I envisioned Play/Action to be a leading creative force for films that engage with the most crucial and challenging issues of our time," Lurie said.

The documentary, which uses the 1978 bestselling book of the same name for its framework, is described as a provocative interrogation of our culture’s fascination with Hitler and Nazism set against the backdrop of the current rise of white supremacy, the normalization of antisemitism, and the weaponization of history itself. It was filmed over three years in nine countries and happened to be put in the can just as Jackson decided to prop up a discredited Hitler trope.

In many ways, the Jackson decision was made for Lurie by his prior precedent, namely Riley Cooper and the organization’s decision to keep that receiver in 2013 after an ugly video surfaced and quickly went viral with a clearly alcohol-impaired Cooper shouting an ugly racial slur at a security guard during a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field.

The result of Cooper staying on the team and going on to earn an extension is all that’s remembered by most. More so, even if you want to add in the context that the Eagles were actually prepared to release Cooper until Michael Vick stepped in to advocate for a second chance, it might result in some having a better understanding of that unique situation but that kind of nuance hardly drives public sentiment.

It wasn’t a coincidence that Cooper began trending on Twitter when Jackson became national news because Cooper was about to be used against Lurie and his organization by one side of a polarized fence if the Jewish owner decided to jettison the star African-American player vs. keeping the underwhelming caucasian wideout who used the N-word to describe African-Americans.

That is what they call in public relations 101, a disaster, and why Lurie was boxed in.

If you want to take the precedent angle even further, you can take it back to Vick himself, who was once a pariah for his involvement in dogfighting and spent significant time in federal prison before being given a second chance at an NFL career by Lurie. You either believe in second chances or you don’t to many keeping score.

For Jackson, he’s made plenty of money over the years and with a modicum of common sense he should be fine from a financial standpoint, so maybe the bigger impact for him is the realization that he’s probably on a zero-tolerance policy moving forward.

It should be clear from the statement but behind the scenes, the Eagles also emphasized that Jackson understands the expectations here and that he must continue to do what was promised.

Gestures are important in public-facing businesses in the modern social-media world. If they are tied to substance, even better, but the optics need to be satisfied.

For Cooper, it was apologies to his teammates both public and private as well as fast-tracked sensitivity training. In addition to the fine, Jackson plans to donate more money to Jewish community organizations and he’s already reached out to a rabbi in Philadelphia and engaged in a virtual meeting with Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg.

Any time things like this happen in the NFL you can’t help be reminded of Jimmy Johnson, the former Dallas Cowboys coach who had a common-sense approach to manage talent that always resonated.

Johnson told his players that he would treat them all fairly but not necessarily the same. He might punish Troy Aikman for falling asleep in a meeting but the 53rd man in the roster would likely be released for the same “crime,” a nod to the fact stars are going to get more opportunities to make mistakes.

If Jackson were the fifth receiver on the Eagles, there’s no question few would have interest in him and he’d be gone by now. The path might have even been different if Philadelphia had any proven commodities at the position, but with Alshon Jeffery still rehabbing from a Lisfranc injury, Jackson is needed from a football perspective and it wasn’t worth spinning the story and educating those who’ve forgotten the nuance of the Cooper issue.

Only Lurie knows how he arrived at his decision, but the guess here is that ancillary issues like personal feelings and football never even entered an equation that precedent already solved for him.

Another misstep, however, and Jackson becomes his own precedent.


The JAKIB Media Football 24/7 Network also discussed DeSean Jackson on SBNation Radio with Eytan Shander:

And the Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes on SiriusXM’s Dan Patrick Radio: 


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John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for PhillyVoice and SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SBNationRadio, and daily on your favorite podcast platform for "Extending the Play."

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