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A reporter once asked Terrell Owens what the biggest misperception was about him. His response: "That I'm a bad guy." In his defense, you can call him every name in the book: selfish, egocentric, rude, childish, but it's not fair to label him a bad guy.
It's easy to dislike him. You probably find his celebrations obnoxious. You probably find the insults he hurls at his quarterbacks inappropriate. You get tired of these celebrities who live like kings, playing a game for a living, but still complain about their paychecks and general lot in life.
But I can't help but see a thread of truth in what he's saying. Going back to the press conference he held a year and a half ago after the 49ers traded him to Baltimore, Owens came on the air and told everyone that he was not okay with the trade.
Owens had earned his right to hit the open market, make as much money as his services commanded, and play in whichever city he wanted. A trivial clerical error should not have cost him $20 million and forced him to catch passes from Kyle Boller the rest of his career. Any of us would have made the same argument if it were our money and our career on the line.
Fearful that the arbitrators would rule against him, Owens accepted the trade to Philadelphia, but it was not an arm's length negotiation. The Eagles had all the leverage, and signed him for less than his market value. Much less. If this had been the merger of two major companies, shareholders would have been shortchanged, there would have been a congressional inquiry, and CEOs would have gone to prison.
This is where the problem started, and I am completely sympathetic to Owens on this front. The Eagles absolutely took advantage of his position when they signed him. This is not to say that they did something wrong - merely to acknowledge that they had considerable leverage during those negotiations.
So, Owens enters the 2004 season underpaid based upon his 2003 performance. He has a monster year. Rather than enter the 2005 season grossly underpaid based upon his 2004 performance, he holds out. He thinks he's the best receiver in the league and wants to be paid among the top 10. He thinks that if the Eagles can cut him if he under-performs his contract, then he should be able to earn more if he over-performs his contract.
So, he holds out. What's everyone so upset about? Players hold out every year. Given that his contract was not an arm's length transaction to begin with, he had all the more reason to hold out! It fascinates me that we can direct so much venom at Owens for wanting to redo a highly leveraged, non-guaranteed contract, and give a free pass to Larry Brown, who only whined, backstabbed, and weaseled his way out of a $60 million guaranteed contract.
Some might argue that someone making that much money should be content with the knowledge that he is living better than 99% of Americans. I disagree. It's Owens' lifetime-honed talents that are selling jerseys and helping Jeffrey Lurie fill his luxury boxes. Nevertheless, if the money that Owens asked for were to come out of an AIDS-for-Africa fund, I would concur. But seeing that it would come out of the checking account of an owner who is profiting handsomely from the play of Owens and 52 other individuals, not to mention he is worth hundreds of millions if not billions in his own right, I fail to be satisfied by this line of reasoning.
Next issue. Owens is selfish. Undeniably true. Most athletes are. Most humans are. Are his touchdown celebrations obnoxious? Sure. More obnoxious than linebackers that celebrate after making....(drum roll) a tackle? I guess it's a matter of taste. Should he be fined $10,000 for having a sharpie in his sock? Sure. But here's where I draw the line. Waving pom-poms and signing autographs at inconvenient times does not make him a bad person. His dances are generally creative, in good taste, and completely harmless. He's not hurting the game by using steroids or corking a bat. Harmless, I say. It's not like he's Rodney Harrison spearing defenseless receivers so hard that their brains crash into their skulls. It's not like he's Roger Clemons, throwing 100 mph fastballs at batters' heads, knowing full well that if he connects he could end the batter's career, or worse.
But does Owens' selfishness make him a bad teammate? Certainly he isn't one of the guys, and never will be. He would rather go stretch on a corner of the field by himself than with the team. Maybe he has trust issues. Maybe he needs his space. While other stars may seize the leadership mantle, Owens runs from it.
But I would hesitate before calling him a bad teammate. I've seen him take out two defenders 95 yards down the field to get his running back into the end zone. I've seen him give halftime speeches with his team down 38-14 in the playoffs, and spark epic comebacks. Is this not being a better teammate than guys that take plays off or quit on their runs?
We've all seen how he conditions. Is he a worse teammate than guys that don't train as hard and subsequently come up an inch short on fourth and one? Is he a worse teammate than guys that hit a quarterback out of bounds just because they want to and cost the team 15 yards? Is he a worse teammate than guys like Lavar Arrington, who would rather make a highlight reel than man their gap, and subsequently cost their teammates victories? Is this not the epitome of selfishness?
Is he a worse teammate than Ken Hamlin, who leaves his teammates high and dry during a potential championship run because he wants to put his fist into someone's face? Or teammates that get themselves suspended for four games? Is he a worse teammate than major leaguers who cost their teams because they won't run out grounders? Is he a worse teammate than Antoine Walker, who will take the last second shot no matter how poorly he's shooting that night? I guess it depends on how you look at it.
My only issue with Owens is when he rips his teammates publicly. I don't think it's effective, and I don't think it's nice. But players do it all the time. They're competitors. Owens is a competitor. Nobody likes being overthrown when you have your defender beat by five yards. Nobody likes watching your quarterback lollygag to the line of scrimmage in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl on the grounds that he's "tired," when you're playing on a broken leg. Maybe he's not the better teammate now, but he was the better teammate than Donovan on that day.
Obviously, his insults are uncalled for, and some of his accusations unfounded. But in the grand scheme of things, do they make him a bad person? Is Peyton Manning a bad person for calling his kicker an idiot? Is Brett Favre a bad person for publicly lambasting his receivers? No. What if he did it five more times? Are you really not going to cheer for Terrell Owens because he occasionally throws a teammate under the bus when there are so many truly bad guys playing professional sports that you have no problem cheering for?
You know, guys like Randy Moss who will push a police officer half a block with his car. Guys like Jason Kidd that beat their wives. What about cameramen attackers like Dennis Rodman and Kenny Rogers? Any issues rooting for those guys? How about guys that cheat on their wives? Guys that use or sell drugs? Guys like Leonard Little, who commit a DUI murder, and then get another DUI? If we investigated the personal lives of professional athletes, the quiet kid from Alabama would come out squeaky clean.
I can understand why people don't like him. He doesn't care if you like him. He wants the opposing crowd to boo him. And yes, he's quick to point the finger at his teammates. Too quick? Without question. But there are worse qualities. There are much worse qualities than taking care of your business and expecting everyone else to take care of theirs.