It would take something connected to privilege to pull me out of a long run of not posting anything on my blog. That could be a discussion in itself.
Not being able to sleep after going to my own bed following bedtime with my sons, I took a look at my Twitter feed to see what was being chatted about. There I found a conversation my favorite sports columnists, Joe Davidson @SacBee_JoeD was having with a few others. Ashamed how disconnected I am to sports nowadays but seemingly Desean Jackson previously of the Philadelphia Eagles was recently cut by the team and there’s speculation and/or conflict as to whether that occurred because of his “ties” to gang affiliation. Below is the bulk of that conversation.
In reading the conversation, the quotes “Needs to cut ties…, associate carefully…, and careful who you associate” stood out the most for me. They harken me to my personal situation and a reality that I know is common amongst most I grew up with. Some background. I was reared with two siblings by a single mom in subsidized housing projects in Columbia, SC which was frequented by crime, drugs, and violence more than police. Just as the latter two quotes from Joe are good things to consider in life and I use as guides for my children, those quotes were also frequently used during my childhood by adults and teachers as a reminder of how we as young Black children were perceived and the likelihood of being considered guilty by association had very serious consequences. Getting any form of a “record” with the police usually meant that they had the right to interrogate, stop, visit, etc. you and your family whenever they chose regardless whether there was any known connection you might have to what they wanted.
What stands out for me is using those words in connection with an adult who was just “fired.” To be clear, I do not know the full circumstance of why Desean Jackson was cut and after doing some reading it appears most are speculating on the “final” reason for him being cut as there are claims of locker room issues, relationship with coach among other things. Lots of allegations that aren’t really important to me as all professional athletes (except for those in college carrying a fake “amateur” tag) are overpaid anyway. Yes I said it. I also believe those upset about athletes getting overpaid should do something like turn off the TV, don’t go to games, don’t buy jerseys, don’t read the Sports section, etc. and the pay of athletes will change really fast. I digress and I’m not upset about them getting overpaid- I think it’s great.
Back to the point. Aside from the connotation of the word “ties” which is also bothering, why should I as an adult have to “associate carefully” or be “careful who I associate with” in context of childhood friends whom I remain in contact with and support in their legal pursuits? Being Black the statistics show that I am VERY likely to be associated with family members and friends who have a “record” with the criminal justice system. I don’t like it, but it’s the case. Please note that I did not say these individuals are criminals of which I’m glad to discuss or debate as I believe criminals are equally common amongst all races and unfortunately some behaviors are criminalized within our society and justice system that make it more likely for racial minorities to have a “record.” I respect the perception of association and understand the potential negative connotation that comes with who you associate with. I equally hold adults responsible for the assumptions they make based on the filters they use when viewing others. In summary, the realities of our justice system make it quite privileged to not be Black if you want to maintain life-long close friendships with childhood friends who don’t have any legal issues. I don’t blame me or Desean Jackson for that.
So what does cutting ties mean for an adult in this situation? Don’t talk to those “bad” friends anymore? Don’t visit friends in jail? Don’t give money to help with personal situations of your “questionable” friends? Don’t let them be a part of your “entourage” when you’re taken across the country as a professional athlete to live amongst people you don’t know and trust? I don’t know what Joe means by when he says “needs to cut ties.” What I do know, is that we supposedly live in a place where innocent until proven guilty is the law of the land. I also respect the right of an employer (Eagles or anyone else) to make staffing decisions based on whatever they feel is in their best interest and within the legal rights they have.
And whatever those legal rights are, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Joe or anyone else to suggest that one cut ties with people they’ve spent much of their life being closest to. Cutting ties seems more appropriate for people 1. in a popularity contest (Obama and the minister, Republicans and the Tea Party, etc.) 2. who are seeking to overcome some past public issue (banks and Bernie Madoff or Allen Stafford, campaign donors and Rick Renzi, Tom Delay or Rod Blagojevich) or 3. with groups that counter your political or religious beliefs. For me, many of the ties cut with my childhood friends that were running around the projects with me were because of distance (me moving away for college, military, and to work) and inability to communicate as they were hard to reach while in the military or struggling in the criminal justice system. And if those friends struggling with the justice system reached out today, I would love to hear from them, spend time with them, and want to know how I can truly help them (legally). And that’s not the business of my employer or anyone else.
So, I’d much rather be a positive nudge in the lives of my childhood friends and receive the reality and humility that they can bring to me unlike anyone else. They know all the embarrassing moments, most of the firsts, the close calls, etc. that I had to learn from to be who I am today. In my community, I saw them more than I saw my mom who was doing the best she could which left her frequently unavailable (physically and emotionally). Don’t get it twisted- I have the greatest mom in the world! And her commitment to her children proved that for me. In the same, my mom set the agenda for rearing and my community mostly handled the task. I’m far from perfect and very appreciative of what I’ve been able to accomplish in helping others in our beautiful world and there’s no way that I would “cut ties” with any family member or childhood friend who’s doing what they can and know how without expecting me to contribute toward anything illegal. To suggest that Desean Jackson or any other athlete seems misguided.
Build friends, love them, and keep them.