Richard Sherman and DeSean Jackson: We Ain’t Gangstas





You can take the boy out the hood, But you can’t take the hood out the homeboy are the lyrics to the chorus of The Comrads’ 1997 single “Homeboyz”.

It appears that both Richard Sherman and DeSean Jackson both of whom have been embroiled in controversies surrounding their alleged gang affiliations, associations and their inflammatory behaviors on and off the football field—are exactly what the Comrads were rapping about.

You can take Jackson and Sherman out of their respective hoods but you will not find them turning their backs on their childhood cronies or shunning current potentially shady associates.

Jackson, who was recently released by the Philadelphia Eagles and subsequently signed by the Redskins, is one of the NFL’s top receivers which led many to speculate why a talent like Jackson was let go.

The story received national coverage not only because the Eagles releasing Jackson for speculative reasons was a surprise, but also because talents like Jackson are hard to find.

Jackson, depicted as a selfish, problematic player whose nickname is MeSean, was rumored to either belong to a gang from the old hood, or to have friends who had gang affiliations.

In addition, it did not help Jackson’s cause when he was accused of flashing gang hand signs during a few games.

To his credit, Jackson has denied being a gang member but has admitted that he hangs out with them. He has professed that his friends do not commit the criminal acts they are customarily accused of.

Jackson also stated that when given the opportunity he counsels his childhood friends if he thinks they need assistance.

Sherman, who has seen his share of controversy since his outburst on national television after the NFC Championship game, came to Jackson’s aide.

In a Sports Illustrated MMBQ article Sherman wrote,

“I look at those words—gang—ties and I think about all the players I met in the NFL and all of us come from inner city neighborhoods like mine in Los Angeles, and I wonder how many of us could honestly say we are not friends with guys doing the wrong things.

I can’t”

It has been my experience that for many, childhood bonds carry deep emotional meaning and become emotionally over-valued in adulthood.   Research shows that most of us do not recall these memories correctly, as they are reworked to meet our current emotional needs.

Additionally many athletes have expressed both pressure and guilt over leaving their troubled friends behind. Much in the same way military veterans struggle to cope with fallen brethren.

Dealing with fame and fortune is not easy for some and the adjustment to a new lifestyle can be taxing, especially when it is so discrepant from the one from whence you came.

Many Hollywood stars and professional athletes have found this out the hard way.

Re-identifying and spending time in the old hood can feel emotionally comforting, especially when one is experiencing the pressures of the limelight the way that athletes like Jackson and Sherman do.

For some, returning to the place where they have grown up serves as an escape from all the pressures they are under.  It also serves to remind those athletes who came from inner city neighborhoods how fortunate they were to escape those environments.

Today, many athletes set up charities and give back to their communities which is now the expected norm in professional sports. It is the industry way of giving back to those who are less fortunate.

But regardless of how much they give, athletes are still besieged by requests for additional assistance– often from those that were their childhood friends.  Many find it difficult to say no to these requests.

Feeling guilty has led many to go down a path that actually hurts the people they are trying to help—while at the same time hurting oneself.

Finally, part of the ghetto and gangsta still exists in Sherman and Jackson. Though they choose not to act on those aspects of their personalities, we see glimpses of it in their behaviors and attitudes—which is why they are in the news.

It is not unreasonable for people to become suspicious if you are hanging out with gang members or flashing gang signs as Jackson has done.

Nor is it unreasonable to suggest that your behaviors are not appropriate to the situation if you are out of control in a post-game interview on national television—as Sherman was.

Sometimes actions speak just as loud as words and perceptions become fast and enduring realities in many people’s minds. So Sherman and Jackson are now perhaps indelibly viewed in fixed positions in the public eye.

You really can’t take any boyz out of their hood—it is a fact of life!  Nor do they really want to leave…

Sherman however has been nothing but honest and refreshing as he has used his new found post-apocalyptic interview status to effectively espouse his views on a number of issues including life in the NFL, the status of blacks in America, and perhaps the internal demons he continues to struggle with.

Sherman has pointed out that America remains a country where blacks are held to different standards than whites. In his latest MMBQ-SI article in he wrote:

“This offseason they re-signed a player who was caught on video screaming, “I will fight every n—– here.” He was representing the Philadelphia Eagles when he said it, because, of course, everything we do is reflective of the organization. But what did they do to Riley Cooper, who, if he’s not a racist, at least has “ties” to racist activity? They fined him and sent him to counseling. No suspension necessary for Cooper and no punishment from the NFL, despite its new interest in policing our use of the N-word on the field. Riley instead got a few days off from training camp and a nice contract in the offseason, too.

Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn. Look at the way many in the media wrote about Jim Irsay after his DUI arrest. Nobody suggested the Colts owner had “ties” to drug trafficking, even though he was caught driving with controlled substances (prescription pills) and $29,000 in cash to do who-knows-what with. Instead, poor millionaire Mr. Irsay needs help, some wrote.

But DeSean Jackson is the menace, right? He’s just as bad as those guys he parties with because he threw up a Crip sign in a picture and he owns a gangsta rap record label. If only all record label owners were held to this standard, somebody might realize that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg weren’t the bosses behind NWA. Jim Irsay lookalikes in suits were.

But go ahead and judge DeSean for the company he keeps. While you’re at it, judge me, too, because I still live in Los Angeles, and my family does, too. We didn’t run from where we grew up. We aren’t afraid to be associated with the people who came up with us. We brought some of our money back and started charities and tried to help out a few guys who were with us when we were nobodies.”

It is a tribute to both Jackson and Sherman who were childhood friends that they were able to overcome their beginnings and go on to the successes they have had in the NFL.

However if Sherman is looking for equality he is not going to get it. None of us are.  We live in a world which at times is arbitrary and whimsical.

It has been my experience that those who are able to both understand and cope with double standards; inequities and unfairness do better than those who emotionally struggle with the reality of its existence.

But Sherman is talking about more than that, he is espousing about racial inequality and stereotypes about blacks that have also existed for other groups since the beginning of time.

And while our country has made progress in this regard there is a consensus that we have a long way to go in our quest for a more just society.

Sherman who has been given a pulpit in his series of SI articles has emerged as a flashpoint spokesman as he addresses these highly charged topics.

However he has failed to address the obvious and maybe that is because he, like so many others, has no answers for the obvious.

So what is the obvious that Sherman missed?

While Sherman has made many valid points in his articles, he has failed to address some of the reasons why blacks have acted in a manner that might continue to promote criticisms and condemnations of them.

Research, common sense and observed outcomes continue to show that individuals who come from two parent families do better overall than those that come from one parent families.

Yet African American households are predominately more maternally dominated and lacking in male role models.

One of the major tenants of psychological research has shown that time on task is the greatest predictor of success.

There is absolutely no basis to suggest that blacks are any more innately athletically gifted than any other population.  Yet relative to the size of their population, professional athletes are disproportionally more African.

African Americans are also overly represented in our penal system.

These facts suggest that African Americans are spending far more time on athletic endeavors and less time enhancing behaviors– than say more productive academic ones.

Equity and equal ability also applies to intelligence.  It is an established fact that blacks are no less intellectually endowed than any other group. Yet their IQ scores continue to lag behind many groups.

Your overall IQ is going to go down if you do not academically nurture it, as opposed to spending time playing sports.  So perhaps hitting the books might not be a bad idea?

Many in the populace have expressed that blacks have not taken advantage of the affirmative action programs that they have been offered.  Moreover, there is continued resentment towards blacks who many see as receiving perpetual compensatory affirmative action advantages.

There have been waves of immigrant populations that have come to this country and have succeeded without this assistance and in a lesser time frame.

It is easy to see how others might be upset about footing the bill and not being offered the same entitlements or opportunities, with those who they view as having wasted compensatory opportunities.

In fact this is an open secret and outwardly discussed amongst those that are resentful.

It goes without saying that prejudice on any level against any group is intolerable and unacceptable.

It has been my experience that prejudice tends to be fostered by a number of factors including socio-economic differences, ignorance and fear.

African Americans will frequently complain that they are unfairly targeted and stereotyped-but so are many other groups.

It has also been my experience that those that fail to be self-reflective and take responsibility for their behaviors might in fact be reinforcing just those stereotypes they are complaining about.

Sherman has been given a unique opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue and he should seize the moment before his fifteen minutes of fame runs out.

There is a dire need for middle and upper class blacks to speak out on these issues, as perhaps suggestions from others might fall on deaf ears.

Thus, Sherman might be better off spending his time thinking about how we should solve these issues. They are certainly not lost on many of us, but I am not sure Sherman would know that, he is too busy complaining about them.