After being drafted 21st overall by the Philadelphia Eagles last year, expectations were high for TCU’s Jalen Reagor, just as they were for the rest of the team. The speedy wideout looked to be the missing piece in Doug Pederson’s offense and finally give Carson Wentz a consistent burner. That ultimately didn’t pan out for a number of reasons as the Eagles imploded piece by piece. Reagor’s rookie year was unquestionably disappointing, but he’s now carrying a much heavier weight as year two approaches.
Whether he likes it or not, Jalen Reagor will forever be intertwined with Justin Jefferson – the wideout the Eagles passed on in order to select Reagor, whom they felt was a better fit for their offense. While Reagor struggled after missing the opening chunk of the season, Jefferson turned on the jets and put up a stunning 1,400 yard campaign in which he scored 7 touchdowns. This, in comparison to a measly 369 yards compiled by Reagor, only threw more fuel onto the fire.
Every yard that Jefferson gained felt like an extra pound of weight being added to the burden being carried by a receiver who has already shown vulnerability on social media. While a large percentage of Eagles fans are actually rational and level-headed, there are those who can hide behind avatars of their favorite players, tag whoever they want and say whatever they feel without consequence. Some of it stems from a very raw emotional reaction, some of from a strange desire to rack up likes and retweets. However you slice it, Reagor has endured a lot of social media abuse over the past year.
After a recent interview that saw Justin Jefferson directly asked about his feelings towards the Eagles sparked up those once extinguished Fires all over again, the ‘Jalen Reagor is a bust’ train started to roll and it didn’t take long for Reagor to very clearly take note.
The 22-year-old blacked out his Instagram and changed his profile caption a few times. It originally read ‘bust’ before being promptly changed to Í’M TAKING EVERYTHING PERSONAL.’ This is either one of two things. A) He’s using the words said online as motivation. B) This is a much more worrying sign where mental health and well-being comes into the equation.
What doesn’t help in situations like this is that the typical response is Íf you cant handle the heat, get out of the Kitchen’. There is this very awkward mindset by the Philadelphia faithful that demands absolute tenacity, ruthlessness, and passion from its players. But the truth is that it’s not like the Eagles are drafting players who were raised in the local area…and none of the players have grown up in an era without social media. Instead, they’ve seen their follower count shoot up, mentions explode after every drop and whiff, and have to take that pressure wherever they go. There is a big difference between fair criticism and unwarranted abuse.
It’s not like a 9-6 job. Football players don’t hop onto Twitter after a long day at work and start discussing a WaWa encounter. But if they do choose to unwind and open their phone, as everyone does, they can often see a bombardment of abuse.
Something happened to me personally last year that I guess helps me emphathize with Reagor in a different way. A former writer of Philly Sports Network got into a twitter row with some Cowboys fans, who proceeded to unearth Tweets involving racial slurs. I found out while live streaming to 2,000 people. My phone exploded. As the boss of the company who this man writes for, I was obviously immediately expected to take action. The appropriate measures were taken, but I wanted to make sure I acted with logic and without emotion. I wanted to talk to the writer directly to understand the context and try to help before parting ways as opposed to cutting the chord immediately just to save face.
For the next three days, I couldn’t open Twitter without seeing my name or PSN’s name being indirectly mentioned. I saw people I once thought had my back simply turn it on a hunch without even wanting to understand why I proceeded with caution to gather all the facts and reasoning. I saw just as much of ‘Liam will do the right thing’, as I did ‘F**k that Brit’. It was like I was living in a movie in the third-person. Every single time I refreshed twitter it was there. I couldn’t escape it. It was suffocating. The pressure externally was just as pressing as what I felt internally. Not only to do the right thing, but to stop what felt like a snowball effect of abuse in my DM’s and mentions before I couldn’t take it anymore. I received threats, I received e-mails from friends of the writer, and I received personal abuse.
The scary thing is, that’s probably nothing compared to what Jalen Reagor experiences on a daily basis. Regardless of your opinion on his play, nothing should drive a fan to hide behind an anonymous twitter profile and hurl abuse at a player wearing their colors.
A lot of people harp back to Brandon Graham being labelled a bust…but Brandon Graham wasn’t picked during the height of social media popularity. This generation of players is extremely different to the last. In the same way you might react by jumping into Twitter beefs and taking things personally, players do too…they’re human after all.
We can no longer sit back and expect players to just take a slew of abuse because ít comes with the territory of playing in Philly.’ What should come with the territory of playing in Philly is accountability, hard-work, and unquestioned effort. If you go down, you go down swinging. Nowhere in that description lies ánd also put up with threats from teenagers and see yourself compared to someone who had a dream season every single time you open your phone’.
Today’s society is very quick to get behind breaking the stigma of men talking about mental health…until a man drops a pass in the red-zone.
Jalen Reagor might be absolutely fine and lapping up all of the attention coming his way, but he also might not be…and if that’s the case, all I ask is that we begin to contextualize his rookie season struggles and wait to see how year number two pans out before taking to Twitter and directly @ing him in aggressive ways that lack logic, understanding, or basic empathy.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire