If you don’t know who T.O. is- consider yourself lucky. At this point, you have a better chance of being struck by a meteor while reading this column than of turning the TV to ESPN and not hearing the words Terrell Owens. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that I wouldn’t prefer a giant astronomical body striking my dome to hearing Sean Salisbury call T.O a “bad-teammate” one more time-but I digress.
On second thought, I don’t digress: more needs to be said about this. We all know T.O. is a complete jerk. He’s openly questioned his previous quarterback’s sexuality and accused his current QB Donovan McNabb of getting tired and choking under the pressure of the Super Bowl. He’s demanded a trade after failing to file the paperwork necessary to become a free agent, threatened to hold out of training camp unless the Eagles renegotiated his contract one year after signing it, and even had the gall to call out his owner on national TV for not properly celebrating his 100th TD catch. Yet he still wasn’t suspended indefinitely from the team until he punched his teammate Hugh Douglas last week.
Besides this being a sad day for touchdown celebrations everywhere, one is left to wonder how Owens went from the young prospect just grateful to be playing alongside Jerry Rice to the arrogant airhead we know so well today. (Those of you who saw him make the game winning catch against the Packers in the 1998 NFC title game know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never seen or don’t remember this game, you have to understand that Owens played terrible the entire game, dropping passes right and left, and then made the winning catch while being absolutely crushed in the end zone. Afterwards he was hugging/crying with then 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci in absolute ecstasy). But soon he wore out his welcome in San Francisco, and now he has burned all the bridges that once lead to Philadelphia.
Everyone hates Terrell Owens; it’s the closest to a unanimous public decision since everyone agreed Michael Jackson wasn’t black anymore. The result is every writer/anchor/reporter falling all over each other trying to come up with a different angle to bash T.O. from: “T.O brings negative energy to the clubhouse”-“Owens is a cancer to the team”-“Terrell caused the hole in the ozone layer”- Are we forgetting anything guys? Are you sure Owens wasn’t really the one with weapons of mass destruction?
The worst part isn’t the way the media is covering the whole situation, it’s the way the media refuses to accept their responsibility for this mess. Who put him on Sportscenter every timed he pulled a sharpie out of his sock or danced with pom-poms after a touchdown? Who continues to coerce and extort these comments out of him? Let’s put it this way, when ESPN’s Graham Bensinger casually asked T.O. if he thought the Eagles would be undefeated with Brett Favre as their quarterback and Owens answered in the affirmative, Bensinger’s expression couldn’t have changed faster from, “I can’t believe I’m interviewing this idiot- what time is my lunch?” to, “Goodbye coffee and copy runs! Hellooooo primetime!” If you slow the video down, you can distinctly see his eyes flashing zeros of the six-figure variety.
If Terrell Owens head was a hot air balloon (which would be putting it mildly at this point) than the media was pumping in the helium: so who’s to blame when the whole thing pops? Don’t get me wrong, Owens should be held accountable for his actions. From a player’s perspective, I wouldn’t want him on my team. From a moral perspective, I find him to be insulting. Yet from a fans perspective-I find him tolerable. Why? Put simply: he entertains. His crazy antics and touchdown celebrations make us shake our heads in disbelief and laugh at the thought of a grown man being so childish.
Do I think that professional sports are long overdue for some actual professionalism? Do I think that modern sports could benefit from a little more class and a little less trash? Of course, but over the past few decades we as fans have embraced these new actor/athlete hybrids that cause so much controversy.
We live vicariously through these athletes because they can do things we’d never dream of doing. In what other sector of society do you not only have the opportunity to celebrate in front of millions of people, but it is accepted and encouraged? The next time you get an “A” on a midterm (if you’re like me, that doesn’t ever happen, but humor me for the moment) try dancing to the front of the class holding out your exam like a championship trophy, spiking your binder on the ground, and jumping into a collection of your classmates waiting for them to catch you. Once you’ve recovered from your concussion, you’ll realize that this onlyworks if you are an athlete.
None of us will openly admit that we approve of these athletes behavior. The, “Look at me! Look at me!” motto that seems to be everywhere in sports goes against everything we try to each our kids. But deep down, all of us want to be noticed. Who among us hasn’t fantasized of scoring the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl or hitting the game winning homerun in the World Series? (Or winning a poker hand “on the river” if you’re 300 lbs. and enjoy wearing sunglasses indoors).
While in one breath we may dismiss these athletes as pre-Madonnas corrupted by fame and fortune, in the other we cheer them on. Inside the soul of each fan is a wish that they could be the ones in the spotlight. At the heart of each athlete is a child so scared by the pressure to perform, that when that moment of glory comes, their emotions cannot be contained. In the case of Terrell Owens, he never learned to leave those feelings on the field.
Bradford Applin is a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. He hopes that as he gets off his soapbox, his fall to the earth will not be as far as T.O.’s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments on this article or observations on sports in general.