Embattled television personality Paula Deen has taken some pretty big hits this week over claims of her use of racial slurs. But she has a big advocate in former Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins.
Last fall, Jenkins was a guest on Deen’s cooking show on the Food Network, participating in a tailgate-themed cooking segment. Deen, known for her comfort-food cooking, had Jenkins in her home for the segment where the two cooked side-by-side.
In the opening to the show, Deen is shown in an embrace with Jenkins, where she wrapped her arms around him from the back and referred to Jenkins as “a big teddy bear.”
In an exclusive interview with Metro, the former Jets star talked about his appearance on the show with Deen.
“She graced me with the opportunity to be on her show. While I was there, I had an amazing time, and [an] amazing experience. I saw something there that was a little different from what everyone knows of her,” Jenkins told Metro. “This isn’t taking away from the reality that the text messages occurred and things like that. When you lead with your heart, you tend to be able to see people and read theirs as well.”
A 10-year NFL veteran who played in the Pro Bowl four times and was selected as an All-Pro three times, Jenkins spent the first seven years of his career in North Carolina with the Panthers. Coming from Michigan and having played his college football at the metropolitan University of Maryland, his experience in the South was eye-opening. He called his time with the Panthers a “crash course. It was pretty much a re-education.”
As for his time on the show with Deen, Jenkins has nothing but positives to say about a woman who, up until last week, was renowned for being the embodiment of Southern hospitality. But a legal battle involving racial slurs directed at a former employee coupled with reports of her having hosted a party where African-American servers were dressed like slaves have dampened her public appeal.
The Food Network cancelled her show last week and sponsors have fled her brand.
On the show, which aired last October, Jenkins is seen cooking and interacting with Deen. She greets him in her backyard with a hug and then holds onto his hand before leading him into the kitchen for the actual cooking. Deen made fermented cheeseburger sliders as well as a roasted potato and fennel salad. Jenkins made her his hot dog specialty, known as the “option dog.”
“The lady was a sweetheart to me; [her] making a mistake I’m not going to be the one to make a big deal of it,” Jenkins said. “I got to see her heart and for me, I don’t look at the ‘N word’ as a bad word like that in this year — in 2013. The reason is because I think the ‘N word’ is more a test of my inner strength as to how strong am I to even be bothered by the word or not.”
Jenkins currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He has spent the last two years as a personality on SNY in their coverage of the Jets but he will spend time “paying it forward” this year with his family and will not return to the network. He calls himself a family man and is dedicated to raising his children and spending time with them now that his NFL career is over.
He said he was surprised to hear the recent issue surrounding Deen and when asked by Metro, said he never experienced any of the behavior alleged against Deen during his appearance on the show.
“I enjoyed her. Her not being on the show, it’s a drag, but it’s out of my control,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes it strikes me odd that when you give an opinion, everybody wants to condemn for an opinion but if the same shoe was on the other foot, the same people would want to play.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.