Before turning the page to a new chapter of his NFL career, DeSean Jackson has been forced to confront and address his past. The standout wide receiver who spent his first six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before being released in March denied being a gang member or having any gang affiliation during an interview with ESPN that aired on Friday.
"As far as me being affiliated, or me being a gang member, never not have once been," Jackson told Stephen A. Smith of ESPN during a taped interview, via The Washington Post. "Never had any affiliation of going out and doing things that is against the law. I always felt that I’m a product of my environment, but at the same time, I’m the guy that wants to go out there and do things the right way.”
Jackson's comments come after a whirlwind of activity that included him being cut by the Eagles and joining the Washington Redskins. The Eagles' controversial decision to release Jackson, who was coming off a career-best season with nine touchdowns and 82 catches, was announced shortly after NJ.com published a report by Eliot Shorr-Parks and A.J. Perez that outlined alleged connections between Jackson and suspected gang members in Los Angeles who have been connected to two homicides since 2010. The 27-year-old Californian denied being a gang member in a statement released hours after being cut by the Eagles and reiterated that denial in his interview with ESPN. Jackson, who grew up in Los Angeles, does not deny that he knows people with gang ties.
WATCH ESPN INTERVIEW ABOVE
"Do I know people who are involved? Yes," Jackson told Smith, via ESPN.com. "I'm definitely aware of and know certain gang members."
"I feel they embraced me," Jackson told reporters during a conference call after joining Washington. "RG3, DeAngelo Hall reached out to me and made it feel like it was home. After everything that was going on the past couple of days, and the last week, that's a big step. ... I think the biggest thing about this move is finding a place where I can be happy and go out there and just be myself."
Even after he joined a new team and signed a new contract, Jackson's reported relationships with suspected gang members and his abrupt departure from Philadelphia remained hot topics of conversation. While speaking with Smith, the three-time Pro Bowl selection addressed the NJ.com report that sparked the talk about his past and perhaps altered the course of his future.
"From my point of view, it was very disrespectful," Jackson told Smith. "I don't think it was right -- straight up. The things, the allegations and the things that were said in the article were things from a long time ago that I felt the club and organization knew about previous years before that. So to sit there and come 2014 and hear all these crazy allegations and crazy stories that half wasn't even true or whatever the case may be, I was just very disturbed."
The morning after Jackson's conversation with Smith aired, NJ.com fired back with an article titled "Five things DeSean Jackson and Stephen A. Smith got wrong during ESPN interview."
While the Eagles have remained quiet on their actual reasons for cutting Jackson, the NFL Player's Association is going to investigate whether the team leaked information to NJ.com, according to executive director DeMaurice Smith.
"We've been in touch with DeSean, and first and foremost he is a tremendous football player and great young man," Smith told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike, via CBS Sports. "On the issue of how he was released, whether or not there were comments or leaks from the team, misinformation to the media coming from the team, that's something that we're going to look at. We've always been aggressive about protecting the integrity of our players."