When I first heard the news, it did not penetrate: Receiver DeSean Jackson was being released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Then, later that day, I heard why.
This caught my attention because it has monumental implications for every black male professional athlete. When the Eagles said it was releasing this All-Pro player because of his association with gang members from the Los Angeles area, it was essentially warning black athletes to stay away from their community and the people in it.
This was the same thing the Republicans did with President Barack Obama, by beating up black activist pastors so badly that going to a black church became a political liability.
Every pro athlete has a friend, associate and maybe even a family member who has been in jail or are currently in jail. They all know people who have lived a life of crime. So should the people you associate with compromise your employment?
Giving back to whom?
One of the main complaints I have heard over the years is that African-American athletes don’t put enough back in their own communities. They have agents who guide them to standard areas of contributions that often serve the agent’s community more than their own. This further dampens their efforts to reach back because most of them are not all pro athletes who can find another team.
Black athletes in every sport should speak up against this as we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the passage of the civil-rights bill. This is just as much a civil-rights issue as the right to vote or where you live. This is about who you associate with and where you spend your money.
Philadelphia is a city that is 50-percent African American, and I am sure that black athletes have been warned to stay away from the inner-city communities like they were in Seattle. But these same black athletes are constantly taken out to the white communities to golf and play with children.
Just think of the economic impact this has on African-American restaurants, car-repair and even barber and beauty shops. We are getting to a point where the only time we see them is on television — their success is not trickling down to help anyone else stand up.
So what Philadelphia said to Jackson is a shot across the bow. If the black community is silent and the black athletes accept this as a standard way of doing business, more black athletes will buy their mothers a house in the white suburbs so he can safely come home to visit, and our community will continue to fall apart.
It is also important to note that Richard Sherman, our local “thug,” came from the same neighborhood and knows the same people. Will he also receive a similar warning to stay away from those friends or be careful of getting a “undesirable label” if he goes back to those streets with his Super Bowl ring to help inspire some of those kids?
I hope we get this better than the black sports pundits who seemed to side with Philadelphia when the initial announcement was made. They were saying that Jackson was out of control and Philadelphia must make practical decisions to protect its interest. Obviously, the other teams did not agree, and he had a lot of offers soon after. (He signed with the Washington Redskins less than a week later, on April 2.)
But I wanted to ask the black and white sports pundits whether they had ever heard of a white athlete or one of any other racial group being let go because of his relationships with an outside group. The answer is no.
A precedent is being set here, and it’s important that we step up and knock this precedent down the same way we knocked down the Jim Crow racial segregation laws. We have so little success from our community that doing anything to discourage those few successful models from coming back is really the act of thugs. We need these brothers in our community. We should not make coming home a criminal act while holding parades for them downtown.
CHARLIE JAMES is co-founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. County Institute (mlkci.org). To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.