Friday, February 9, 2018

Terrell Owens' Belated and Deserved Selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football's Hall of Fame 2018 Class includes Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Brian Urlacher.

Each inductee has a life story worth telling but this article will focus on Terrell Owens. Owens overcame a troubled childhood--he was raised by his grandmother and did not know for several years that a man who lived across the street from him was in fact his father--to become a great, all-around football player. Owens was not only a tremendous wide receiver from the standpoint of catching the ball but he was a strong runner after the catch, a powerful blocker and a prolific touchdown maker. He finished his NFL career with 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards, a 14.8 yards per catch average and 153 receiving TDs. He ranks second in career receiving yards behind only Jerry Rice and third in receiving touchdowns behind Rice and Randy Moss. Owens is fifth in NFL history in total touchdowns (156) behind Rice, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson and Moss. Owens ranked fifth in career receptions when he retired in 2010 and he still ranks eighth now.

Owens was inducted after his third appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. Some would say that first ballot selection ultimately does not matter because all that really matters is getting in but Owens clearly deserved to be inducted the first time around; making him wait two years as "punishment" for some imaginary, perceived sin is ridiculous and spiteful.

Instead of praising Owens for his work ethic, his willingness to play hurt (he had an MVP-caliber performance on a broken leg during Super Bowl XXXIX) and his exceptionally consistent production over a long career, the media repeatedly and unfairly targeted Owens for criticism. Brett Favre came from a humble country background but was hailed as a hero despite his alcohol/drug addiction, a sexting scandal and a reckless playing style that proved very costly in many key situations. Owens never got in trouble with the law or the league the way that Favre did and Owens was a clutch performer but the media always found excuses to portray Owens in a negative light.

That is not to say that Owens always said or did the right thing but the overall reality is that the media often took Owens' comments out of context and manufactured/exaggerated so-called controversies at Owens' expense, roasting Owens for figurative crimes while giving free passes to players who had literally committed crimes (including fellow 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Ray Lewis).

In 2009, when Owens had already more than put up enough numbers to deserve first ballot Hall of Fame induction, Michael Smith--then one of ESPN's supposed football experts, before becoming a SportsCenter host--was not sure that Owens is a Hall of Famer. Two years before Smith hesitated to give Owens his due, I declared that Owens should be considered a future Hall of Famer, refuting the commentators who tried to belittle Owens' strong resume. 

Owens' journey from deprivation and hardship to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is inspirational. I would rather have a guy who says "Who can make a play? I can!" and then does it, as opposed to a "gunslinger" who is going to sling interceptions with everything on the line. Favre was a great player and a deserving Hall of Famer in his own right but the media's hagiographic treatment of Favre while constantly belittling Owens shines a disconcerting light on how much personal bias influences the stories that are fed to us on air, in print and online.

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