My goal in this short article is to take down the anti-Terrell Owens narrative in such an efficient manner that absolutely everyone will have the attention span to read what I have written, but how is this possible? How can I clarify what has been distorted from the very beginning? How can I effectively explain to people why the media would deliberately lie about someone? Well, I probably can’t, but I will try.
I want you to forget everything you think you know about what Terrell Owens “said” or “did.” Where would be a good place to start?
Well, I think the first thing people need to understand in order to grasp what happened is how Owens was portrayed when he entered the NFL. Owens’s career began in 1996, yet until he celebrated a pair of touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys in week 4 of 2000 by posing on the star at Texas Stadium, literally not a single bad word had ever been said or written about his character in the media. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as what was said about his character was that he was unselfish, which included a story in SI mentioning he had volunteered to be the 49ers’ third receiver before the start of the 1998 season to defuse any potential controversy with Jerry Rice and J.J. Stokes also competing for starting positions.
What does this mean? What this means is that for 4 full seasons and the first 3 games of the 2000 season, Terrell Owens was either a completely different person, or he was somehow this horrible person who was slipping through the cracks/masquerading until the celebrations prompted them to notice him. Or, as a variation of the second option, after the celebrations prompted them to notice him, the media deliberately looked for things to vilify him for, since he was now permanently a villain for those celebrations – celebrations he was suspended for and refused to apologize for.
If it’s not the first option – and I believe any reasonable person would agree that people don’t suddenly become completely different people all of a sudden one day – then we must look at the implications of the second option. If it was the second option – that Owens was this bad guy all along – then we must consider how Owens would have been portrayed had the media never been drawn to him for the celebrations. Logically, we can only conclude that without an attention-grabbing celebration, his supposed evil would have remained covert. And logically, we must also assume that out of the thousands upon thousands of players to have played professional football, there are others whose bad personalities never drew the media’s attention.
Remember, it’s not just that the media never even once reported something negative about Owens’s character from 1996 to week 4 of the 2000 season; it’s that they portrayed him as exactly the opposite.
With that in mind, let me tell you what happened:
- Terrell Owens – inspired by a speech by the team chaplain during the walkthrough before the 2000 game against the Cowboys – celebrated two touchdowns by posing on the star. This offended numerous people – including many in the media – who interpreted it as an egregious form of taunting/”look-at-me” behavior.
- When confronted about it after the game, Owens refused to apologize for his celebrations.
- 49ers coach Steve Mariucci suspended Owens for one game for the celebrations and his refusal to apologize for them.
- The media latched on to the narrative of Owens being a jerk for the celebrations and Mariucci and Owens not getting along because of their disagreement about the celebrations and Owens’s suspension.
- The media started targeting Owens with inflammatory questions after losses, and when Owens gave perfectly diplomatic answers, they twisted/reinterpreted his words into things he didn’t say for the purpose of attention-grabbing headlines/columns. Even when he said literally nothing at all to reporters, they ripped him for that, too.
- In 2001, they engaged in #5, then used the tactic of feeding their false reinterpretation of what Owens had said to Mariucci, upsetting Mariucci and causing further strain.
- In 2002, Owens doubled down on the controversial touchdown celebrations, autographing a ball with a Sharpie in the endzone. He was again lambasted in the media for his way of celebrating.
- In 2003, during a game billed as Owens vs. Moss, the 49ers were getting blown out, and with the cameras on Owens throughout the game, they caught him yelling at his offensive coordinator in frustration.
- In the post-game, the media again engaged in #5, and again engaged in #6 – only this time with Jeff Garcia. Thanks to this, for the first time since they played together, Owens and Garcia’s relationship was now strained.
- Owens’s agent missed the deadline to file for free agency, hence he and Owens ended up negotiating a new contract with the Eagles while under duress waiting for the ruling from the grievance hearing. Owens had been traded to the Ravens and a 3-team trade settlement was being worked out to send Owens to the Eagles.
- In 2004, when the two were no longer teammates, Owens did the infamous Playboy “interview” in which he was asked if he thought there was any truth to the rumors Garcia was gay, and Owens implied he thought there was, (“20 Questions With Terrell Owens”). Owens never said anything bad about Garcia while they were still teammates. The media engaged in revisionist history to make people forget the timeline and think otherwise.
- After the Super Bowl with the Eagles, Hank Fraley and Freddie Mitchell told the media that Donovan McNabb had gotten tired/apparently thrown up in the Super Bowl. This became a huge story. In an interview a little later on, Owens was asked by ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli about the criticism he had received before the game, with some questioning how his physical conditioning would be coming off his broken leg, insisting he was selfish for trying to play. Owens fired back at the media, noting the irony of their story after the game being about the other star player being the one who apparently got tired (“I wasn’t the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl”). The media again engaged in #5 and #6 – this time with Donovan McNabb. Owens denied he was talking about McNabb; his criticism was directed at the media for questioning his physical conditioning.
- Owens asked to renegotiate his contract because of the result of #10.
- The Eagles refused to renegotiate, which upset him.
- Owens came to camp in a bad mood because of #14, and decided he was only going to do the bare minimum from now on. He would practice hard, play hard, and that’s it. Andy Reid confronted him about skipping autograph sessions, leading to a heated exchange and Reid sending Owens home for one week.
- Owens went home, and the media stalked Owens at his house while he was outside shooting baskets on his driveway. With a helicopter flying overhead and dozens of reporters trespassing, Owens decided to make light of the situation, doing the infamous “situps in his driveway.”
- After a 4-3 start, Owens did an interview with Graham Bensinger. McNabb had suffered a bruised sternum in week 1 and a sports hernia injury in week 3. Two of the questions Bensinger asked Owens got media attention. The first was when Bensinger asked him if he was upset about the Eagles not acknowledging his 100th touchdown reception, to which Owens replied by saying it showed the lack of class that the organization had. The second was another instance of #5 and #6; Bensinger asked Owens what he made of the Eagles’ 4-3 start that year, and Owens said that McNabb being injured was a big part of it, and that if McNabb were healthy, their record would probably be better. Bensinger then asked Owens, as a follow up question, about ESPN analyst Michael Irvin’s comment that the Eagles would be undefeated with Brett Favre at quarterback. Owens said it was a good assessment, that he would agree with it, and went on to praise Favre, in the context of having already said the team’s record would be better if McNabb were healthy. He never said one negative word about McNabb.
- The media’s reinterpretation was fed to McNabb, who took offense, and the Eagles demanded Owens apologize or be suspended. Owens apologized to the organization for his remark about not acknowledging his 100th touchdown reception, but refused to apologize to McNabb or speak in front of the team to clear up what he meant.
- The Eagles suspended and deactivated Owens after his refusal to adhere to the stipulations in #18.
- Bill Parcells didn’t want the Cowboys to sign Owens, but Jerry Jones did it anyway. Parcells kept his distance from Owens and the two had little interaction, but zero confrontations.
- In Owens’s third and final season with the Cowboys, Ed Werder wrote an article that alleged, based on a “source who speaks regularly with Owens’s teammates” (Werder citing himself as his own source to get around the fact that he’s making it up- he speaks regularly with Owens’s teammates), that Owens was jealous of Romo and Witten’s relationship and thought they were drawing up secret plays. All Owens had done was had a private meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to address his concerns about the offense, which is exactly what he was supposed to do. Don’t believe me, ask his wide receivers coach from the time, Ray Sherman.
- In the off-season, the Cowboys cut Owens for “performance” reasons, per his Notice of Termination Form. The adverse personal conduct box was not checked.
- The same media that made up the aforementioned nonsense alleged he was cut for “chemistry” reasons, which is in direct contradiction to what Owens’s release form says.
- Owens signed a 1-year deal with the Bills and was not brought back the following off-season, with their then-new head coach Chan Gailey publicly saying he thought after reviewing the film that Owens was “close to hitting the wall” as a player, which was why they didn’t re-sign him.
- Owens signed a 1-year deal with the Bengals and tore his ACL in the following off-season.