This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
With tomorrow comes yet another installment of the unending Terrell Owens saga. An independent arbitrator will decide if the flashy wide receiver must live by Philadelphia coach Andy Reid's decision to sit Owens for the rest of the season... or if he can walk away from the Eagles and dive into the end zone with yet another team. If Owens' 2005 fate were to be tried in the court of public opinion, he would not only sit, he would be flogged. This week's letters to editors and fans calling in to radio talk shows generally revile Owens as a pariah. And fans at the Eagles stadium for the Monday night game against the Cowboys wore jerseys with Owens number crossed out, some with anti-Owens expletives scribbled across their chests. The consensus seems to be that fans don't care how speedy a player is, if he's not an upstanding guy. They call Terrell a traitor, an egomaniac, a colossal jerk. He bad-mouthed his own quarterback. He got down to fisticuffs in the locker room with a teammate. He argued disrespectfully with his coach; he even parked in the head coach's parking space. The headlines have been dramatic, cataclysmic, even. "T.O.; has shaken the Eagles franchise to its very foundation." "T.O.; has left the Eagles' season in shambles."
Wait a second. This one player, with some trash talk and the flex of a super-size ego, has rocked an entire team and flattened their hopes for a successful season? He's not committing crimes. He hasn't beaten women or trafficked cocaine or held up a convenience store. OK, he's a highly immature, classless man who crossed Coach Reid's tolerance threshold. A head coach has every right to demand harmony and mutual respect among his players. And, to be fair to Coach Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, those of us who are not Eagles insiders haven't been privy to just what a nightmare Terrell is. But I'm having a different reaction than the majority of fans. Sure, I've had my favorite players through the years and it's true that they have been individuals who have both been exciting talents and good people. Franco Harris from the Steelers' golden years. Joe Montana when he led the 49ers and their West Coast offense. Walter Payton, aka Sweetness, when he slashed through the backfield of the Bears. But, truthfully, we know very little about any of the athletes who perform for us week in and week out. As in any general population, some are sullen and ill-tempered, some are gentle and sweet, some are attention addicts. Once that coin flips and the opening kick-off is booted, we're not focused on any player's personal character.
We're tuned in to watch some great football.
I remember when LT, Lawrence Taylor, the many-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the NY Giants, was up to his eyeballs in drug trouble. He wasn't much of a role model but I could have cared less once Sunday rolled around and he sacked the quarterback like a cheetah on an all-out take-down of his prey.
Probably the best example of great talent coupled with boorish personality was Ted Williams. The Boston Red Sox fans loved that smooth Williams swing but they wished their star were less irascible. He spat at hecklers, threw bats angrily into the crowd, refused to step out of the dugout and tip his cap to his fans after a big hit. Nonetheless, the Red Sox embraced Williams. He never let them down on the field.
We're not familiar with the day-to-day behavior of Lawrence Taylor or Ted Williams or Terrell Owens as their teammates are. All I know is, when I get a chance to see T.O. glide down the field, reach up and sweep the ball into his arms, and breeze into the end zone, I personally don't care if he's parked in the wrong parking space, or even that he's criticized his own quarterback. I'm hoping the arbitrator sets Terrell free tomorrow. Let him skim down the sideline in another team's uniform. Let him be another team's nightmare.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.