December 25, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson in attendance before the Los Angeles Lakers play against the New York Knicks at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen A. Smith and DeSean Jackson's ESPN Interview Was Essentially Useless

December 25, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson in attendance before the Los Angeles Lakers play against the New York Knicks at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

To this day, I can still say that there is no more influential collective work of journalism for me than Stephen A. Smith‘s coverage of the 2000-2001 76ers. As a staff writer for the Inquirer, Smith’s aggressive writing style only added to the joy that was the last Sixers season with any sort of title implications. Even as Smith’s transition from print to television has drawn substantial criticism, most notably the circus act that is ESPN’s ‘First Take’ program with Smith and Skip Bayless screaming nonsense for a half hour, there was still a part of me that fostered good will towards him. Friday night, the four-lettered network aired a sitdown between Smith and Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson. ESPN had a prime opportunity to unearth details of the story that many have been clamoring for. Instead, in what was essentially a fluff piece riddled with inaccuracies and oversights, Smith’s deficiencies were placed even more squarely under the looking-glass.

The tweets of the Inquirer’s Jeff McLane were essentially a microcosm of the reactions of the collective Eagles beat force. Jackson answered all of Smith’s questions and was composed in doing so. If anything, Jackson only strengthened the notion that, after being dealt a dose of reality, he is ready to reform some of the apparent issues that led to his departure from Philadelphia. He admitted to missing a meeting during his career. He came forth in saying that he does have friends and associates who are gang members, but has no affiliations and does not spend time around them when they are ‘doing negative things’. He also shed light on the phone call between him and Chip Kelly when the Eagles head coach told the receiver he was being released. Though Jackson may have come off as vulnerable and hurt by the lack of reasoning, Smith missed a major opportunity of pressing the conversation into a more testing position for his subject.

Kelly and Jackson’s conversation, according to the receiver, seemed very ‘matter-of-fact’ for such a substantial decision.

“But at the same time, when he called me, 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 there waiting for a reason why, but that’s really all I can say from the conversation was: ‘We’re moving forward and I think it’s best for us and I think it’s best for you so basically we’re going to let you go negotiate with 31 other teams.’”

If the report chronicling the relationship between Jackson, Kelly, and the rest of the Eagles team are true, it is tough to imagine that the receiver was too surprised when he did not get a face-to-face ‘pink slip’ from the organization that drafted him. Jackson skipped his last opportunity to speak with team officials, a standard procedure exit interview following the end of the season. Beyond that, if Jackson really was cursing out his coach and undermining him in front of his teammates, he cost himself the right to have his termination be told to his face. Kelly kept his mouth shut all season and did not allow Jackson’s apparent antics to prevent them from making a run toward the postseason. After apparently, and unsuccessfully, reaching out and trying to level with Jackson since his arrival in Philadelphia, Kelly conducted the move in as low-key a manner as he could.

Perhaps the most regrettable aspect of the interview from a journalistic principle is how Smith addressed Eliot Shorr-Parks‘ article on Jackson’s relationships with gang members for NJ.com. When the article was brought up, Smith claimed that it alleged that Jackson was actually a gang member. Not once did Shorr-Parks’ piece make any sort of claim of that length, only that Jackson hung around gang members. The receiver backed up the article, admitting he did have relations with gang members.

Asked if he hangs out with gang members, Jackson said, “Not if they’re doing negative things.” He added that gangs were products of the environment in which he grew up and that he witnessed “things” on a daily basis.

“Do I know people who are involved? Yes,” he said. “I’m definitely aware of and know certain gang members.

“But as far as being affiliated, never have been in one. I’ve always felt I’ve been a product of my environment, but I’ve always felt I’ve wanted to do things the right way.”

Smith’s insistence on focusing on these gang-related questions, aside from being riddled with factual shortcomings, prevented the interview from addressing the most-likely reason for Jackson’s release: his teammates and coach did not like him and he did nothing to change that. When it was all said and done, all Smith did was intensify the notion that his shouting delivery and extreme word-choice are what defines him as a journalist. Jackson came off as sympathetic and professional, while his interviewer barked and screamed through what could have been a very special interview.

Tags: Chip Kelly NFL Philadelphia Eagles

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