The real disappointment in the DeSean Jackson mess is the Philadelphia sports media

March 31, 2014

Here on Gregarious, we tend not to write much about the Philadelphia media and public relations scene, considering our audience is national in scope. But last week’s news out of Philadelphia demands commentary. When reports broke on Friday that the Philadelphia Eagles had abruptly cut ties with the team’s most electrifying player, DeSean Jackson, it raised some disturbing questions about the state of sports reporting not only in Philadelphia, but in cities throughout the country.

Philly, like elsewhere, is a rabid sports town, and its sports media takes pride in being as gritty and determined as Balboa himself. I found out firsthand when I represented Jeff Lurie when he bought the Eagles in 1994. Back then, Philly reporters were a tough, unrelenting, in-your-face bunch, not beyond following a PR guy to New York on the off chance of discovering a clandestine meeting with the new incoming owner. But that was then.

If the DeSean Jackson story illustrates anything, it is that today too many sports reporters have fallen prey to the same in-studio tactics that have doomed national cable TV news — you know the affliction, where reporters prefer to depend on the rumor and innuendo of others rather than good, old-fashioned, gum-shoe reporting. This story surfaced a month or so ago, when reports first broke that the Eagles were shopping Jackson. It made no sense and should have raised questions, or launched an investigation.

While Jackson was known as a moody diva, the media had come to terms with his childish antics considering his abundant on-field talent. Sure, he whined about his contract, refused to give up his body to prevent interceptions and was caught jawing with a coach on national TV, but the media never connected the dots. Even a recent robbery of Jackson’s home — and theft of cash and a handgun — won a hall pass from the local media. Then, came Jackson’s release timed precisely with the publication of a scathing report that claims Jackson had flashed gang signs during an Eagles win last year. Images from Jackson’s own Instagram account showed him palling around with known members of an LA gang suspected of killing a child in a drive-by shooting. In addition, an unreported account of Jackson being arrested for marijuana possession came to light.

All this news was broken, not by the Philadelphia sports media, but from across the river in New Jersey, by NJ.com of all places, where the Eagles’ arch and bitter enemy, The Giants, reside. Reporters Eliot Shorr-Parks, A.J. Perez, and Jordan Raanan scooped the entire Philly media corps, with reporting that in part could have been done by knowing how to access social media. In fact, the first images of Jackson flashing the Crip sign during a game appeared on YouTube last September, posted by a citizen journalist who calls Jackson out for his antics. Compounding Philly’s failure was the follow-up reporting, still absent of fact and real life reporting and more sour grapes than investigative. Some reporters termed the NJ.com story tenuous, but provided no facts one way or the other. Other stories painstakingly re-framed the episode away from the explosive gang connections, terming the break up more one of  “poor attitude and work ethic,” all to seemingly save face for completely missing the story.

As fans, we deserve better from the reporters who for many of us start our day and, until now, have helped us make sense of our city’s #1 passion. With few celebrities or artists in our ranks, sports is all Philly has, for gosh sake. Too bad our local media has forgotten that fact, caring more to lean on third party accounts and cozy relationships with organizations and athletes, instead of doing the hard, difficult work of vetting rumors, finding truth, and sanitizing our city with the cold, hard facts behind the sports we hold so dear.

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