Thursday, December 18, 2014

DeSean Jackson and the not-so-simple life

I got a lot of interesting responses to my Daily News Weekend story on the screening of the DeSean Jackson documentary, made by DeSean's half-brother Byron, which I thought gave an excellent insight into what made DeSean the person and player he is, for better or worse. Several people, though, tweeted or emailed that they don't need to see the documentary. Their minds are made up -- DeSean's a preening, selfish jerk, they don't care how he got that way.

DeSean Jackson and the not-so-simple life

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Rich Schultz/AP)
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. (Rich Schultz/AP)

I got a lot of interesting responses to my Daily News Weekend story on the screening of the DeSean Jackson documentary, made by DeSean's half-brother Byron, which I thought gave an excellent insight into what made DeSean the person and player he is, for better or worse. Several people, though, tweeted or emailed that they don't need to see the documentary. Their minds are made up -- DeSean's a preening, selfish jerk, they don't care how he got that way.

And yet, Friday afternoon at the screening, DeSean was talking emotionally about the ravages of pancreatic cancer, which took the life of his harsh, demanding father, Bill Jackson, only five months after Bill was diagnosed in January 2009. DeSean was fetching bottles of water for the people attending the screening. His mother, Gayle -- a poised, thoughtful woman -- was speaking eloquently about why she thought the film was important, what she hoped it would do for other families, other fathers and sons.

I was reminded yet again that life is rarely simple. Yes, DeSean's 2011 season, when he allowed his unfulfilled contract quest to make him listless and uninterested, was an affront to everyone who bought a ticket, let alone anyone who bought a No. 10 jersey. Yes, I get as sick of JACCPOT and stories about ridiculous bar bills and $400,000 grievances filed by Drew Rosenhaus as you do. But somewhere under all that, I think, is an interesting, reflective person, who unfortunately feels he needs to project something entirely different.

As I wrote in my story about the screening, I don't know if anybody who has been followed around by a camera his whole life, whose rigorous, detailed training was the life's work of a group of five adult men, can grow up with a "normal" perspective on who he is and how he fits into the world. "Team Jackson" clearly was the only team that mattered around the Jackson household during DeSean's formative years; there is no question DeSean was raised to approach a team sport from an individual perspective. This is how tennis players or golfers are formed, football players, not so much.

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When Bill and the "team" decided DeSean should attend and play for Long Beach Poly High, logistically unworkable from where Bill lived in Inglewood, Gayle -- divorced from Bill by then -- was persuaded to quit her job, move back to California from Atlanta, and find a job in Long Beach to make things easier for DeSean.

One thing the documentary makes clear is that DeSean worked very hard to be a special player, he didn't just win the genetic lottery. At one point, early in his high school career, Byron pulls some strings from his days on the Chiefs practice squad and he and young DeSean attend the training camp of the Dick Vermeil Chiefs, with DeSean even getting to shag some passes. This is not presented as a lark -- it is a business trip, approached the way you might approach a brief internship.

One of the things I've noticed about DeSean in covering him for five years is that he rarely seems to be having fun. Smiles are rare, on the practice field or in the locker room. Seeing how his talent was toned gives me some perspective on that; Bill Jackson had a big heart when it came to helping others, but he surely was not a "fun" guy. His approach to building an NFL star was deadly serious.

I wonder if Chip Kelly has seen the documentary, now available through Amazon and on various on-demand forums, and if he has, what he makes of his superstar wideout. A little maturity and the right coaching touch might again make this guy the player he was in 2010 -- a true difference-maker, something no team can afford to squander.

DN Members Only: Could the NFL suspend Jason Peters? Technically yes. Probably not.

Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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