By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
ABC’s Monday Night Football match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys will be an annoying side note. Before, during and after the game, the only player that commentators, analysts, writers, and Joe football fan will debate and discuss incessantly is Terrell Owens. Owen’s antics dominated debate on and off the playing field long before the Philadelphia Eagles management stomped their foot down and gave him the boot.
An apparent repentant Owens realized that he was in deep hock, apologized to the team, coaches, the owners, the city, and the heavens for his bad boy shenanigans. I say apparent, because the apology is about salvaging his career, image, and snatching more big paydays. After all, a damaged goods ballplayer, even one that thinks the Sun rises and sets on him can’t pay himself to play. But Owens won’t have to worry about that. The heavy trunk that he totes around won’t matter as much as his in-demand skills. Teams and fans will clamor for him, and the reason they will tells why Owens is not the sole culprit in his self-destructive hurtle over the sports edge.
From the day he put on cleats, a super talented athlete such as Owens became the field of dreams, delusions and fantasies of a public desperately in need of vicarious escape. He was and is swooned, and fawned over by a star-struck media and public. When big-ticket athletes commit or are accused of sexual hijinks, drug, alcohol and gambling offenses, and arrogant, clownish and boorish behavior, the public, and the sports establishment react with self-righteous shock, and disbelief. Yet legions are still willing to cut them some slack.
The fawning circle of leeches that sports bad boys routinely parade around with in their entourage fuel their ego. Sports agent Leigh Steinberg noted that if Owens stood on a ledge 75 floors up, and threatened to jump, that bunch would shout at him that the laws of gravity don’t apply to him, he could fly. Owens is hardly unique. Indiana Pacer fans gave Ron Artest a rapturous welcome when he recently stepped back on the court after his season long suspension for thugging it out with fans in Detroit last November.
Mike Tyson is living testament to the kid glove over-hype and idolatry of bad boy athletes. After his release from prison, many boxing promoters and corporate media owners openly played on Tyson’s bad boy image. They greedily hoped that this would swell the gate and bring mega paydays back to the dying sport of boxing. They were right. Thousands of fans forked up premium dollars to cheer and jeer the bad boy Tyson when he made his short-lived quest to reclaim his spot on top of the boxing world.
Many sports writers continued their love-hate affair with Tyson. They plied the public with a barrage of scandal and gossip stories on him, lambasted him as an animal and a savage, and then leaped over each other to grab their seats at or near ringside to eagerly build up the Tyson circus. A bemused Tyson told one interviewer after one run-in with the law, “They pay $500 to see me. There’s so much hypocrisy in the world.” But Tyson pumped up by sports fans, admirers, the media, and boxing’s money crowd as boxing’s primal force gladiator took full advantage of that hypocrisy. He believed he was “Iron Mike,” a man above the law who could do anything and get away with it.
Despite a mile long rap sheet, three years in prison, a certified monster image, and the fact that he was a badly burned out shell of a boxer, his stock soared even higher when he was released from the pen. The headline grabbing ability of the now way past burned out Tyson was again much in recent evidence. He got the tongues wagging after his recent alleged assault on a photographer. Then there’s O.J. Simpson. An inscription on the desk of a USC student when O.J. won the Heisman Trophy in 1968 read, “God is dead, But O.J. isn’t.”
That also told much about the otherworldly intoxication that fans have with their manufactured sports Demi-gods. Coaches and owners know this better than anyone. They wheel and deal to ram the sparse number of players of Owen’s caliber into their team’s uniforms, then shell out a king’s ransom to keep them, and pamper them more than their mothers. If they don’t they know that they’ll take their petulant act somewhere else, and there’s always somewhere else.
Owens and his agent knew (and know) that. They worked the public and the sport’s world’s idolatrous affair with him like a fine-tuned Stradivarius. In the end he overreached, and paid a stiff price. Still let’s not kid ourselves. True, Owens is the selfish, self-centered cancer that the world has branded him. But there are many willing hands that help fashion that brand.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for BlackNews.com.