More than one person has suggested to me that Terrell Owens is getting a raw deal, that his quarantining by the Eagles is “excessive.” My answer to them has been this: Name another athlete — in any sport — who’s ever behaved as badly.
That’s probably the problem arbitrator Richard Bloch kept running up against as he considered the merits of Owens’ grievance. Arbitrators, like judges, rely heavily on precedent in making their decisions, but with T.O. there is no precedent. No sports figure — in my elephantine memory, at least — has ever shown such utter disregard for his teammates and employers … over and over again. Among your lower life forms — your flatworms, your leeches, your Sprewells — Owens definitely ranks down near the bottom.
Arbitrators are famous for saying, “Aw, come on, what he did wasn’t that bad.” But Bloch couldn’t justify knocking even one game off T.O.’s four-game suspension. The Eagles, he opined, were well within their rights to punish him the way they did. Hallelujah! There’s still an ounce of sanity in sports.
Owens won’t play against the Packers on Sunday, and he’ll spend the five weeks after that on the inactive list, waiting for Eagles to release him and, if he’s smart, shopping for new representation. T.O. and Drew Rosenhaus are like oil and … a flamethrower, the worst possible pairing. When an athlete with no self-restraint joins forces with an agent with no scruples, you get what we’ve got in Philly: a public relations disaster of epic proportions — on both sides.
Before last season, Owens was, to most folks, merely an irritant, a guy who yapped too much and strutted too much and agitated too much. But now, after his disgraceful display with the Eagles, he’s Hannibal Lecter. It’ll be interesting to see how he tries to rehabilitate his image (with the help, no doubt, of the talk-showmeisters).
After all, if No. 81 showed anything in his belated “apology” a few weeks ago, it’s that he’s a chameleon, a world-class phony. He’s so good at role-playing he should be starring on Broadway — in “Low-Rent.” We’ve seen two of the faces of T.O. in the last 10 months, Mr. All I Care About Is Winning and his evil twin, Mr. Give Me A New Contract Or I’ll Burn the Franchise Down. Next on the agenda, I’m betting, is Mr. You’ve Got Me All Wrong.
(I keep picturing Owens outside an owner’s office during the coming offseason — like Norman Bates in the police station at the end of “Psycho.” “I just want to sit here and be quiet in case they suspect me,” he thinks to himself. “They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly.”)
Rosenhaus attempted to downplay his client’s antics by comparing him to druggies. “There are players in the NFL that are arrested who violate the program when it comes to drugs and substance abuse, and they are not punished as severely as him,” he said.
The difference, of course, is that drug offenders hurt mostly themselves. T.O. did everything he could to sabotage the team — badmouthing the quarterback, defying the coaches and ownership, making a distraction of himself at every turn. He played only seven games this season, but he’s already clinched the scorched-earth title.
Another of Rosenhaus’ ridiculous rationalizations: Clubs break contracts all the time; why can’t a player break a contract if he has clearly outperformed it?
Actually, clubs don’t break contracts all the time. Cutting a player two years into a four-year deal isn’t breaking a contract, because contracts in the NFL aren’t, by and large, guaranteed. Besides, it’s not like it’s a one-way street. If the Redskins give Dan Stubblefield a $10 million bonus and he plays like a bum, it’s their tough luck. They can’t get a refund.
A statement made a while back by the Bills’ Troy Vincent, president of the NFLPA, spoke volumes: “You have to [defend a union member],” he said. “That’s his right and that’s our fiduciary responsibility to protect him, any member of our association. It’s just unfortunate, and I apologize to the fans and those people that support our sport because we’re all affected — all of us, myself included. Ticket-holders, owners, management, players. It’s just not good for our sport.”
No, it isn’t. Philly fans, in particular, have been stiffed; no Super Bowl for the Eagles this year. As for the players, Owens has made them all look bad, lowered the Minimum Standard of Behavior to unimagined depths. You scan down the list of T.O.’s crimes and misdemeanors, and you wonder: What wouldn’t an athlete do nowadays?
The barbarians — Owens, Rosenhaus and their kind — are at the gates. All you have to do is glance at the newspaper to realize that. Just the other day, a judge in Atlanta forced the Georgia Tech football team to reinstate a player who has been charged with conspiring to possess and distribute about 100 pounds of marijuana. Arbitrator Bloch would have done sports a great disservice if he had sided with T.O. At least now, in this one case, someone has stood up and said, “There are limits.”