Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why is the Media Out to Get Terrell Owens?

Let me tell you about an athlete whose story you don't know. He was born to a 17 year old alcoholic, who raised him with help from her mother, who was also an alcoholic. He did not know who his real father was until he was 12 and he became friendly with a girl in the neighborhood--who turned out to be his half-sister. He sought to escape from his unhappy life at home by immersing himself in sports, becoming good at basketball, track and football. In high school, college and the professional ranks he distinguished himself with his work ethic until he became one of the best players in the history of football at his position. His name is Terrell Owens and, for some reason, no matter how hard he works, no matter how well he plays and no matter how well he conducts himself, a significant segment of the mainstream media is apparently determined to bring him down. You don't know his story because, even though the facts are publicly available and have been mentioned in a few articles, his story has not become a part of the national narrative the way that Brett Favre's triumphs over adversity have been relentlessly thrust into our collective consciousness.

That is not to say that Owens is perfect. Like everyone else, he has done things that he should not have done--but how is it that Ray Lewis obstructed justice in a double murder that still has not been solved and yet he has a better public image than a player who has never committed a crime and whose biggest "offense" is that he feuded with some of his quarterbacks, none of whom have played as well without Owens as they did with him?

Owens is having one of the most productive seasons of his future Hall of Fame career, his Dallas Cowboys have the best record in the NFC and Owens has been a model citizen. He has carefully walked the verbal line of praising new coach Wade Phillips without overtly slamming Phillips' predecessor Bill Parcells, who would not even publicly utter Owens' name--literally dehumanizing him. A little over a week ago, ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson, one of Parcells' former players, decided to publicly offer Owens some advice, namely to not even suggest that the Cowboys are better off without Parcells because Parcells laid the foundation for the team's current success. If Johnson were sincerely trying to help and not making a bid for more attention, wouldn't he deliver that message privately? Anyway, how likely is it that Owens would be watching a pregame show right before he's about to play? Apparently, someone told Owens that Johnson had disrespected him--I firmly believe that Owens never actually saw or heard the segment featuring Johnson (at least not before microphones were thrust into Owens' face). Naturally, feeling hurt and insulted, Owens fired back, although his comments actually simply stated the truth: Owens' career has been more successful than Johnson's and Parcells may have put the team together but Phillips is getting the most out of all of the players. ESPN and some other networks tried to turn this into some kind of blood feud but, fortunately, the story has died down.

That just meant that Owens' detractors had to try to stir up trouble in a different way. Is there anything more overblown than the ridiculous obsession with Jessica Simpson's appearance at last week's Cowboys-Eagles game? Who honestly believes that her mere presence had anything to do with how Tony Romo played? Asked about the situation, Owens delivered some one-liners. Look, he may not be Jay Leno or David Letterman but anyone who listed to the audio can plainly hear Owens and the media members around him laughing. Even if you just read the text of what Owens said, it was so over the top he obviously was kidding. Instead, Owens' attempt at humor was reported as if he actually demanded that Simpson stay away from future Cowboys' games, leading Owens to call Romo just to clear the air. Owens' teammates are bemused about this so-called controversy. As receiver Patrick Crayton noted, Simpson also attended two games that the Cowboys won but nobody is talking about that.

Before sticking a microphone in Owens' face and asking him to respond to Johnson wouldn't it be fair to make sure that Owens really knows exactly what Johnson said and how he said it? Johnson was grandstanding, to be sure, but he did not really blast Owens--but it makes for a juicier story to provoke Owens and then let the cameras roll. Also, before declaring that Owens really meant that Simpson should not come to the game doesn't a reporter have an obligation to know the context in which his comments were made?

The good news is that ultimately, all the mainstream media can do is manipulate how the public views certain people; it cannot decide the outcome of games--and, at the end of the day, if a player and his team cannot get it done no amount of whitewashing can cover up that stark fact. The Eagles, notwithstanding their victory over the Cowboys, are floundering and have never been the same since kicking Owens to the curb; yes, other factors also played a role in their demise but they have a crying need for a playmaking wide receiver. Hello? They had one and he is not so coincidentally a key performer for the conference's best team. Eagles' fans can savor their moment of triumph in their one Pyrrhic victory over Owens this season as they watch the Cowboys during the playoffs.

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