In Defense of Terrell Owens


I never thought I’d pen this article, but as yet another ESPN story lays it on thick about Terrell Owens’ decline in life there’s one small detail I think everyone’s missing as they so gleefully tar and feather the once-brash receiver.

I’m not trying to redeem TO as a person, nor am I saying that anything that’s happened to him wasn’t well-deserved, far from it.

But as ESPN (and other sports media outlets) tear Owens down and shift perception by showing highlights of dropped catches, appearances on Dr. Phil and emotional breakdowns from a failed reality series, we do need to remember one thing.

TO was great once.

When you Google Terrell Owens now, the first image you get is a Wikipedia photo of him crying beneath sunglasses and the first several pages read like a tabloid. “Owens Fires Agent,” “Owens Hits Rock Bottom,” “A New Low for Terrell Owens.”

Rarely in sports does karma play out so perfectly, so publicly, that even the most dense of fans can’t help but take notice. To many, this is Owens getting exactly what he deserves.

And the sports media establishment have not attempted to be subtle in their mockery of Owens, who has not helped himself. After bouncing around between several NFL teams, injuring his knee in the off-season and being cut from an indoor football league team, Owens is now broke and nearly begging for another NFL opportunity.

Rather it almost seems like many around the NFL are delighting in every sordid detail, every misstep, in every progressive inch that Owens has slid down that proverbial slope.

They’re doing so well covering it, in fact, that it’s becoming easy to forget that TO played football at an elite level for most of his career.

You have to click through nearly sixty results before you actually get to some of Owens statistics or a piece about him actually, you know, playing in a game.

And that’s always been the thing with TO, he’s profitable because he’s never learned better than to speak his mind or to stay away from microphones when he gets emotional. He makes headlines, stirs pots and helps to produce “news” in the middle of the week during a 24-7 cycle.

Frankly the media, specifically Ed Werder, have benefited more from Terrell Owens since football went 24-7 than almost any other player. He’s up there with Brett Favre, Rex Ryan and Tim Tebow as far as guys who you could always squeeze a few minutes out of when there was not much happening.

And yet after handing them 15 years worth of bizarre spectacle here’s that same media so eager to rip Owens down, to get that last bit of football theatre out of an already over-exposed career. This no longer constitutes news, players get cut, go bankrupt and fall off at the end of their careers all the time. No, this is some bastard form of vigilante justice on the part of the media. This is ESPN and SI’s way to get Owens back.

For what? Who knows, Owens has contributed as much to their bottom lines as anyone over the last decade, typically isn’t standoffish with media (he once invited the media to a workout in his front yard for pete’s sake) and he definitely provided more than his share of good one-liners over the course of a career.

But somewhere, somehow Owens wronged the sports world, pissed off the media and now they’re out to get him. They’re out to embarrass him and make him pay.

It’s a shame.

Not because Terrell Owens is a good man, or because he deserved better.

But because in another era the fact TO was not always likeable would take a backseat to the fact he was the greatest receiver of his generation. Say what you want about his attitude, Owens was as hard a worker and as fierce a competitor as anyone he played with. He did play the game the right way.

In fact, Owens currently ranks 2nd all-time (to only Jerry Rice) in receiving yardage and touchdowns. He’s sixth all-time in receptions. In the entire history of the NFL only three non-quarterbacks have scored more total touchdowns than Owens has.

But nobody talks about that.

Jerry Rice is actually a perfect example of the benefit of the doubt TO never received. They’re extremely similar, Rice and Owens, from their small-school background to their San Francisco ties, but more than anything, they’re both egotistical men who can border on downright abrasive.

The difference is Jerry Rice got grandfathered in before the 24-7 era, he was protected. We don’t discuss all the nasty things Rice said during his career, in fact a lot of people have the misconception that Rice was quiet and polite. We don’t cover that he fell off, bounced around, played in Seattle and was cut by the Broncos before finally hanging it up.

Hell Jerry Rice went on TV within the last couple months and called Brandon Jacobs, a current NFL RB, soft!

Imagine TO doing that…

Yet Jerry Rice is considered the greatest receiver of all time, some call him the greatest player period, in the same sentence as Jim Brown (another man highly reputed for his constant good nature). The attitudes, the selfishness, those things are never mentioned.

As far as receivers go Terrell Owens is number two only to Rice. But nobody will remember that, nobody thinks “Hall of Fame” as soon as they hear Owens name called.

No, because Owens got TMZ-ed.

And he did it to himself, nobody’s arguing that. But after profiting off Owens for almost 15 years, the mainstream sports media sure did delight in helping.