Fame can be both a blessing and a curse. With money comes notoriety. Whether a young athlete is ready, fame also gives them a platform. Through social media, a platform can reach millions of fans. But what happens when a player’s mental health and their platform intersect? DeSean Jackson recently learned about this with disastrous consequences.
DeSean Jackson’s anti-Semitic comments
In early July, Jackson landed himself in hot water by sharing a bad quote on Instagram, details Newsweek. In all fairness, it wasn’t just a bad quote. It was a really bad quote. Out of sensitivity, we won’t share the quote here, but the post was originally attributed to Adolf Hitler.
As if sharing Hitler’s words wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that the quote was fake, and instead a common dog-whistle belonging to an anti-Semitic group in New York City. In other words, the whole thing is one big mess.
Fans and commentators have been quick to call out Jackson’s awful public commentary. Shannon Sharpe had no problem criticizing the wide receiver on air, and the Eagles fined the young star for the postings. For his part, Jackson has walked back the comments, stating he didn’t fully understand the messages’ substance.
DeSean Jackson’s football history — with concussions
To understand where Jackson is coming from, it helps to know about his background. Coming out of college in 2008, he was considered a hot prospect as far as wide receivers go due to his speed and explosiveness. Jackson was drafted as the 49th overall pick.
After 12 seasons in the NFL, Jackson has accrued more than 10,000 yards and 55 touchdowns, as well as three Pro Bowl nods. But there’s another, less rosy side of Jackson’s career. During those 12 seasons, the wide receiver has had 19 season-impacting injuries including numerous concussions, says Bleacher Report.
The subject of concussions is a hot-button topic in the NFL. In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered a possible link between NFL players who’d received routine head injuries and a condition called CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Dr. Omalu was an Allegheny County coroner tasked with performing an autopsy on legendary Steelers center Mike Webster. Prior to his sudden death, Webster had displayed severe symptoms of depression, dementia, and other mental health issues.
Dr. Omalu paved the way for research that showed an absolutely disproportionate number of retired NFL athletes also suffered from CTE. A 2017 JAMA study showed that 99% of the deceased players studied suffered from the condition. So what does any of this have to do with Jackson?
Mental health or a conscious choice?
Back in 2010, Jackson sustained a head-rattling hit from Atlanta Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson. The resulting concussion took Jackson out of play for the next two games. It wasn’t the only one. Over the course of his career, Jackson has left the game on numerous occasions after getting his bell rung. For a high-impact receiver, this kind of hit comes with the territory.
Does Jackson have CTE? It would certainly explain all the wild things he’s been saying. Like quoting fake Hitler on Instagram. But we don’t know anything for a fact, and probably won’t until Jackson gets older.
What it does do is raise deeper questions about players and their mental health. Is behavior like Jackson’s simply ignorance of the power of one’s platform, or is an early symptom of something more menacing like CTE?
Either way, Jackson isn’t off the hook. He’s got some work to do to return to fans’ good graces, but at least he’s making the effort. He and Julian Edelman have been speaking about the commonality between Black and Jewish history, and have a trip planned to the Philadelphia Holocaust museum. Hope springs eternal that Jackson will use still his platform for good.