August 16 - Sore Winners Never Win
In Tuesday Morning Quarterback's column today, he spends exactly one
paragraph (and regrets even that) on the Terrell Owens situation. His
conclusion? Same as mine -- an Owens Mention Moratorium. That is, the
sports press just needs to ignore T.O. Please.
Hovering over Owens' driveway in a helicopter while the embattled WR shoots
baskets or porcupining him with microphones as he giggles and does sit-ups
looks like nothing so much as a Slow News Day. Enough already.
But no -- it's only escalated. Owens dressed down the Eagles offensive
coordinator, Brad Childress last Tuesday, then Wednesday had a run-in with
Big Red himself, Andy Reid, who said T.O. "dropped" an expletive on him. The coaching staff claims
Owens has been disruptive and disrespectful to them -- and they're prob'ly right. Owens claims
Childress "antagonized" him and Reid was treating him like a child -- and he's prob'ly right too. (And
exactly where is Drew Rosenhaus in all this? Why isn't he putting a muzzle on his client? Isn't he
hired to do what's in the best interests of those he works for? Sheesh!)
No doubt team officials have taken their cue to diss T.O. to his face, then to send him a letter that
paves the way for official sanction, from the overwhelmingly condescending press coverage of
Owens, but that's no reason for them to disrespect their player, even if he is out of control. When
reporters and talking heads see someone like Owens down -- that is, someone who's flamboyant
and seen by fans as self-centered -- their impulse is to pile on. And why not? It paid off big with their
coverage of Keyshawn Johnson in 2003, right? Such manufactured controversies create news, no
small thing in mid-August, when the sports press hasn't got all that much else to cover. But the fallout
isn't as good for the team as one might think. After all, how many playoffs have Jon Gruden and the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers been to lately?
Such punitive press coverage doesn't only persuade teams to act against their best interests, it also
incites fans' worst impulses -- it's almost as if fans have been invited into the Big Sports Reality Show
and are finally being given the chance to have a say. And just as taxpayers feel glee in NOT checking
the box on their tax forms that would give one lousy dollar to presidential campaign funds, they also
delight in their virtual vote of no confidence where athlete controversy is concerned. If it were up to
fans, they'd vote Terrell Owens off the show.
Oh, fans portray themselves as being reasonable -- but rarely does logic make an appearance. Fans
gripe that athletes like Owens should be held to the same standards at work that they are, as writers
to this message board point out. Please. If each of the fans who thinks this way were at the top of his
profession as the athletes are they whine about, the work standards they'd be held to would look a lot
Isn't it a universal truth that men at the top of their fields in any profession are held to different, often
more lax standards in terms of everyday behavior? Middleclass sensibilities have never applied to
people like Ernest Hemingway or Brad Pitt or Jim Morrison or Andy Warhol or Leonard Berstein or
Nobel Prize winner/schizophrenic John Nash, etc. Terrell Owens hasn't come close to the
debauchery, devilment and downright idiocy of these men, but you wouldn't know that from tuning in to
"SportsCenter" or seeing poll after poll in which fans say Philly's better off without him on the team. I
think it's hard for Regular Joes to understand just how good, or at least not-so-bad, the vast majority
of athletes really are.
Fans are also grousing that Owens makes enough money, that he doesn't need more -- as The BM
Rant does here and Adam Nelson on Sportscolumn does here. He-LLO! It's not about how much
money he has (especially relative to everyday fans' piddling incomes) nor about how much lesser
NFL WRs make. It's about how much Owens is worth. Again, comparing professional athletes' lives
and salaries to those of fans isn't apt. And comparing Owens to the Colts' second option Reggie
Wayne or Vikings who-dat Nate Burlson is downright lame-o. More analogous are Indianapolis star
Marvin Harrison and ex-Minnesota superstar Randy Moss, both of whom made more than Owens last
season, though didn't match his on-field performance.
Rationality considers context. The Eagles got a deal with Owens when he signed with them after he
basically bungled his contract in San Francisco and then gave Baltimore the finger. Everyone, press
included, knew Owens was signing with Philly for less than he was worth, and that his contract would
likely get reworked after his first year. But sports nabobs also realized what calculating money
managers Eagles officials are -- and that a showdown was likely inevitable. Further, fans generally
haven't got a clue how mangled the system is in the NFL for awarding contracts, as ESPN.com's
Jason Whitlock sorta explains here and SI.com's Ian O'Conner explains better here. And given
Owens' Pro Bowl numbers last season as well as his inspired Super Bowl performance (which, yes,
put Donovan McNabb to shame), T.O. has every right to ask for more money.
No, he doesn't have to diss McNabb nor be a baby with the coaching staff nor make an ass of himself
in the meantime. At the same time, Andy Reid would be doing himself and the entire Eagles
organization a favor if he treated Owens and the entire situation with the professionalism he says he
expects from his superstar WR. Professional is as professional does -- regardless of what or whom
The Eagles know they're not going to give Owens the contract he wants -- there's no reason to rub it in
and make him lose face even further. In doing so, however, the Eagles have taken the situation to the
brink of Keyshawn Johnson territory. Philly hasn't got a great rep as a players' team in the first place.
Remember when the Eagles let LB Jeremiah Trotter go to Washington because they wouldn't pay
him what he was worth? Then when he was cut by the 'Skins after suffering an injury, Reid took him
back -- but only for special teams play and for a measly $535K. Pretty Machiavellian, if you ask me.
Sure, the Eagles know how to pinch a penny, and can be applauded for that because they've had a
great run of success. The New England Patriots have garnered praise for just such fiscal
responsibility while also winning three Super Bowls. But two points. Philly hasn't won a
championship -- and as we saw clearly in last year's Super Bowl, Andy Reid isn't necessarily the guy
to get them over the hump. Point 2: The Pats have lost key components of their title teams because
both coaches and players can make closer to their market values elsewhere.
The bottom line? The Eagles can't afford to alienate key players, even a player behaving badly, if they
want to put themselves in a position to win a championship. Sure enough, the Eagles are going to
win this skirmish with Terrell Owens. But their team will suffer in myriad ways, the most important of
which is that Philly hasn't got a snowball's chance of making it to Detroit in February.