Wednesday , Oct , 18 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Stephen Jackson: Read All About It


Now that’s a headline if I’ve ever seen one.

And unless you’ve been attending to some pressing business for the last week or so that hasn’t allowed you to touch a newspaper, TV, or computer, chances are you’ve seen that same headline or one like it.

Stephen Jackson: Read All About ItThere’s a thing about headlines you just have to appreciate, even if you don’t actually approve of it. I don’t know the average word count for a newspaper article, but I imagine those 500-1000 words, however well organized and researched they may be, are all secondary in relation to those seven or eight words that lead in the article. Headlines are about the only time factual reporters get to be sensational, the only time details aren’t important; a headline is nothing but the words and facts that put hand to newspaper, TV remote, or computer mouse – they’re the draw in. The problem comes in when the headline becomes the story, when accounts and testimonies don’t matter, when facts and details get blurred or pushed aside, when seven or eight words with a purpose only to sell become the end all judgment of what went down.

    When you read the letters in big bold print, you’ve all but had your mind made up. What comes after is just bragging rights to make you feel informed. It’s good to read the exposition, but you knew everything you wanted to know about Stephen Jackson and his recent incident after the heading.

    When I write about these things – perceptions, rush to judgment – understand, I’m not criticizing the reader, I’m harping on the writer. You can’t help it, it’s only human nature to internalize and process whatever comes first. It’s like when a judge asks a jury to disregard a statement. Yeah, sure, just throw juror number six the magic forgetful potion and it’ll go down like cool-aid. Once you get fed the headline, you got it, and it’s in you, so now everything else is conflicting with or supporting that initial idea. I can’t blame you for sticking with the first and most tantalizing thing you see, that’s how it’s meant to work. When you "fall for it" it’s just some writer or editor doing his job.

    I get it myself. I understand the why of headline, I even understand the how. I do it myself. Go back and read the first sentence of this article. Go ahead, go back and read it, right now. Humor me, scroll back up the page and read it again. What that is what I’m calling out, and oddly enough, what I utilize myself in almost every article I write. It’s a draw. In school they call it the inverted pyramid structure, important stuff up front to draw people in, smaller details in the back in case people drop out mid article. I use it in a way that draws in, but also leaves the readers with the realization that there’s more to the story, so they should keep reading and keep looking out. The problem, again, is when all you get is a beginning, with no real emphasis on the surrounding details.

    I’m not implying there are people out there trying to omit facts or distort truth, not at all. The facts are all out there, go look them up if you like. I’m not going to give a full recap here, not my deal. You know the works of it by now; Stephen Jackson and three teammates are involved in an altercation at a strip club, Jackson is hit by a car, and fires five shots in the air, which he claims were in self defense. Names, numbers, locations, statements – they’re all out there. And if an objective mind were to launch an inquiry into all these things it would be a safe assumption to say that person would find something with more truth than a headline could ever offer.

    Again, the facts are out there. But what you have to realize is that the people providing you with said facts don’t really care if you pay attention to them or not, so long as you don’t miss that headline. People in the mainstream media will never admit to it, and most likely don’t even act on it, but they’d like nothing more than for you not to pay attention to the details, not in this particular case anyway. There are no devils in the details this time, just revealing facts that kill sensationalism and shrink a story.

    I’m not trying to say what went down with Jack isn’t a big deal to his team and his safety, because it is. I’m not trying to say I condone a player being out at early morning hours in strip clubs around the start of training camp, because I don’t. I’m not trying to say Jackson doesn’t share blame in this situation, because he does.

    What I’m saying is that this story loses its punch and drops its edge when you look at the surrounding details, and throw out assumptions.

    Whether you like it or not, whether the media likes it or not, a man firing a registered handgun, that he is licensed to carry, conceal, and use, in the air, in self defense, in a non lethal way, when he’s likely fearing for his life, is not this big a story. Being Stephen Jackson makes it this big a story, being a member of the Indiana Pacers makes it this big a story, being part of the NBA’s worst brawl over two years ago makes it this big a story.

    So much of this, whether it’s realized or not, has to do with the name scrawled across the front of the jersey Jackson wears. A cup gets thrown in Detroit, Ron Artest jumps into the stands, things get out of hand, and from that point forward every Indiana Pacer is a raging lunatic by association. When Stephen Jackson was with the San Antonio Spurs, a well reputed upstanding organization, he’s a good guy, he’s a team player, he’s a family guy, that’s what everyone would say. But once he’s in Indiana, once that Detroit rumble went down, he’s that guy who played with Ron Artest, he’s that guy in that fight – personality stripped, identify defined, the lasting perception of a man made off of one moment.

    Don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying NBA players can go around firing shots in the air and not have anyone notice. But I can say in all honesty and without a shred of exaggeration, that if this was a different player, a player who isn’t a Pacer, who wasn’t involved in that brawl, who doesn’t wear expensive jewelry, and maybe whose skin color is different, this would be a blurb in the newspaper, nothing more.

    There is now talk of trading Jackson as he faces felony charges, or worse yet just releasing him, cutting ties, getting out while the gettin’ is still good. I couldn’t think of anything more laughable. For the last few years now the Pacers have been that team that everyone agrees has the personnel to make a run at a ‘chip, but could never put it together. This type of drama certainly doesn’t help, but letting go of Jackson would only make it worse.

    The Eastern Conference is a constantly changing, almost always wide-open, conference. A healthy Pacers squad, with Jackson, is as good a shot at getting to the Finals as anyone else out east, with the obvious exception of the crew in South Beach. Leaving Jermaine O’Neal to carry the Pacers alone, however, would be suicide for the Pacers’ chances.

    It’s not sacrificing ethics for a chance at success in a game, it’s sticking by a guy who has expressed every desire to play for and represent the organization, a man who’s apologized for whatever he may have done and wants to move on.

"I hate that it happened and I am sorry for it. I haven’t been in any trouble in my career before the Detroit incident until now. I haven’t had a criminal record. I’m happy to be on the court and happy that I ‘m alive and be with my teammates and family and get ready for this season."

    Those are his words. Scrub from your mind whatever may have caused said words to be uttered to tape recorder or microphone. Simply understand, that if it weren’t for the situation in question – no, were it not for the team and player in question, these words would be taken at face value by the reader or listener and nothing more would be thought of it. But in the case of Stephen Jackson and the Indiana Pacers, that’s a benefit neither will likely receive for a long time, if ever again.

So before you criticize Jackson for firing a gun, before you judge him for being at a strip club, understand this: we all make mistakes, the difference between you and me making a mistake, and Stephen Jackson, is we get to apologize and move on. Stephen Jackson on the other hand, gets stuck with the stigma of being a thug for the rest of his career, no matter what he says or even does from this point forward – all because of headlines.