IN A QUIRKY twist of fate, the NFL found itself represented by one of its more controversial players as it celebrated a donation to a local school.
Embattled receiver DeSean Jackson yesterday joined Eagles teammate Jeremy Maclin at Our Lady of Calvary in Northeast Philadelphia. The school won the Philadelphia area's NFL PLAY 60 grant of $10,000, money earmarked to further the league's youth health and wellness initiative.
Jackson sincerely supports PLAY 60, as well as the United Way, cancer research and anti-bullying awareness.
However, all season Jackson's contract standoff with the Eagles has served as a sour undercurrent to his disappointing performance for the underachieving team, now 4-8. At yesterday's presentation, Jackson's mother, Gayle, announced that her son would not address any football issues - an unusual condition at such an event.
That announcement resonated because, on Thursday in Seattle, the NFL Network reported that Jackson froze out his teammates during the Eagles' latest loss. Jackson has not explicitly denied the report. However, head coach Andy Reid denied it.
Asked repeatedly about Reid's support, Jackson was not afforded a chance to reply. A public relations employee from the Eagles interrupted, repeatedly. As the session disintegrated, Jackson said that he "appreciated" a delay in confronting his current controversy; that he would talk about his most recent incident at practice today.
Jackson also held out of training camp, seeking an extension of his rookie contract, which expires after this season and pays him an absurdly paltry $600,000 this season.
Jackson was suspended for the Game 9 upset loss to the Cardinals for missing a team meeting. He returned the next week and was scintillating, save for taunting the Giants' defensive coordinator on the sidelines and costing his team 50 yards.
Jackson short-armed two catches the next week against the Patriots, one of which would have been a touchdown. He also dropped another TD pass. He was benched for the fourth quarter of that game.
Then, after Thursday's game in Seattle, he was abrupt and combative.
That's the last that was seen of Jackson until yesterday. On an unseasonably warm fall morning, 800 schoolchildren could not have cared less about Jackson's finances or his antics. They were happy to get the money, and delirious at Jackson's presence, and Maclin's.
There was more money coming, too.
Ed Cox, who has two children at Calvary and has seen one graduate, was named the school's Super Parent. An additional check for $1,000 in his name was presented to the school's athletic department by Proctor & Gamble. Cox lives nearby. He is a 42-year-old eighth-grade teacher at Farrell Elementary and the swim coach at Calvary. He is entered in a Facebook voting contest against the 31 other franchises' winners, plus two non-NFL market winners, for the Ultimate Super Parent prize - a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
After the ceremony, Jackson and Maclin fully engaged with groups of schoolkids in the parking lot as the students jumped rope, caught passes from the players and hula-hooped.
"This is beyond wonderful," said physical-education teacher Maureen Kramer, once a star basketball player at La Salle and among the first female members of the Big 5 Hall of Fame.
Kramer said she hopes to use a portion of the $10,000 to better pad the walls of her gym.
In that gym, Jackson and Maclin urged the kids to stay active, the way they had as children. Maclin's father chimed in, too.