The Washington Redskins hadn't had the best of weeks, not after having their Dallas mistakes reviewed again and again on film and in the media, after enduring two tough practices and after answering dozens of questions about a season teetering on oblivion.
That week was interrupted by something completely different yesterday when practice ended and Coach Joe Gibbs called them into a circle to introduce a familiar face -- the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson spoke for about 10 minutes, then shook hands and posed for pictures with several players. He met privately with Gibbs and shared a plate of barbecue ribs in the Redskins locker room.
He also brought a message, reminding the Redskins that, a loss to the Cowboys notwithstanding, they're lucky to be in this position and that they must use their positions to make their city better. He invited them to come into the District and ride in ambulances and police cars, and to see the problems of the inner city.
"Then, I'd like for them to go into the schools and talk to the young people about choosing another way," he said. "Use this precious moment they have to make stronger and better people."
Jackson came as a guest of Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, a long-time friend. He said he'd been planning to talk to them since moving to Washington two years ago, and in the wake of his election as shadow senator for the District, asked Mitchell for a chance to address the players.
"I live here, I'm an official here," he said. "I want to use the football players and the basketball players to become involved and to help make this a better place. They have esteem, they have reputations, they have everything they need. There are no little kids walking around wearing their parents' pictures on their T-shirts. They wear Art Monk's and Gary Clark's, and that's a level of power that can be used to make a difference."
His message was simple.
"These guys are among the most blessed physical specimens on earth," he said. "God has blessed without any effort on their own. They practice to get in shape and to be better, but God gave them gifts. I don't know if they appreciate just how blessed they are and the opportunity they have to do what they want to do. That alone should be motivation enough to stay away from that which will destroy your body and your career.
"Beyond that, there's a responsibility that goes with what they do. They can't take the attitude that, 'I'm my own person and, therefore, what I do is my own business.' You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have all this public adulation . . . and not accept the responsibility to give something back. People do look up to you and you do have something to offer. I want them to go to the hospitals and to the neighborhoods, to see the blood and the shattered lives. Just ride around with police and watch the drug busts and brains scattered on the streets."
Gibbs didn't know Jackson was coming, but welcomed him. His players say Gibbs has told them many of the same things himself and that he didn't mind someone else saying it.
"I thought it was a good message," Gibbs said. "I think what he was saying to the guys is that we can't take credit for what we have. We were born with our bodies, we were born in this country and we have these gifts from God. He talked about the community and the trouble we're in with drugs and what we can do to make a difference."
It was an odd meeting because it isn't often that players accustomed to a certain level of celebrity meet someone even more famous. When Gibbs called the team together, he motioned for rookie running back Brian Mitchell to step forward.
Mitchell is constantly kidded about being a Jackson look-alike, and as the two men hugged, Bobby Mitchell told Jackson, "He's been out campaigning as you."
Linebacker Ravin Caldwell and others asked Jackson to pose for pictures, and defensive end Charles Mann wanted to know about an old friend now on Jackson's staff. Jackson told them he'd see them again on Sunday when they play the Miami Dolphins at RFK Stadium.
"You'll be on the sidelines?" Mann asked.
"No," Jackson said, "I'll do my coaching from upstairs."
Cornerback Martin Mayhew said Jackson "reminded us that we take too many things for granted. You hear it a lot, but it hit me coming from him. It also hit me that he'd pick up on it and care enough to come out here. I was really impressed. Even if you don't start out taking things for granted, a lot of times things happen and you get caught up in your own life and overlook things that are happening to other people. You start to look for ways not to help and it shouldn't be that way.
"There's a much bigger picture out there than what we deal with on a day-to-day basis. A lot of times you get wrapped up in it and it's good to be reminded of it, especially by someone like him."
Others said much the same. "He reminded us not to get too happy with what you've got because there are other people less fortunate and not as physically athletic," safety Todd Bowles said. "It's things you know, but it's good to hear."