L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 346, November 20, 2005
"If you can't beat 'em... join 'em"
In Defense of Terrell Owens
Special to TLE
I've been watching sports for a long time. But in all my years, I have never seen anything like what's transpired in Philly the last few monthsand especially the last few weeksbetween the Eagles and all-but-former-Eagle Terrell Owens. Most people already know the facts about this situation, since it's one of those rare few sports stories that transcend sports/SportsCenter and make it onto the evening news. But for those who've been preoccupied with other, more "important" stories (i.e., riots in France; bombings in Jordan; hockey), here's a quick recap to get you up to speed:
Spring 2004/B.T.O. (Before Terrell Owens): After successfully blowing three consecutive NFC title games, the Philadelphia Eagles acquire arguably the best wide receiver in football, Terrell "I Once Called Jeff Garcia Gay" Owens, from either the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens, depending on your perspective. In spite of T.O.'s apparent inability to get along with others, the Eagles hope his tough-talking, high-octane personality will bring some much-needed swagger to the clubhouse. Later that weekend, the phrase "You get what you paid for" drowns in the Schuylkill River.
Fall 2004: The Eagles dominate the NFC and finish 13-3. Owens takes the city by storm, donating 14 touchdowns in 14 games before breaking his leg late in the year. Throughout the playoffs, he can be seen leading cheers on the Philly sidelines. And then, against all odds, he takes the field against the New England Patriots in early February as the Eagles make their first Super Bowl appearance in over 20 years. Though the Eagles lose the game, T.O. turns in a performance of Willis Reed-like proportions. His fate is quickly sealed as the most popular athlete in the history of sports-obsessed Philadelphia. The city treats him like its king.
Spring 2005: T.O. hires football super agent/Great White Shark/Shane McMahon look-alike Drew Rosenhaus, the only person in human history who can sound arrogant even while explaining how he saved a drowning child. According to reports, Owens and Rosenhaus have asked the Eagles for a new contract, making the case that, in his first season, T.O. "outperformed" his 7-year, $50-million-or-so deal. Before anyone can even say, "Wait... is this rumor even true?," diehard Eagles fans are already on the phone with local sports radio host Howard Eskin, who assures them the Eagles don't really need T.O., because T.O., amongst other things, is an overpaid bum. Eskin then hangs up on anyone who disagrees with him.
Summer 2005: T.O.'s once beautiful relationship with the City of Philadelphia fully deteriorates. Owens compares himself to Jesus and cries on the set of the Donny Deutsch show. In training camp, he says anyone who says "hi" is disrespecting him. And for no apparent reason whatsoever, he begins a venomous feud with QB Donovan McNabb. Fed-up with all the distractions, head coach Andy Reid sends T.O. home for a week. News vans show up outside his mansion as he takes off his shirt and does sit-ups on his lawn. (No, seriously. News vans show up as he does sit-ups on his lawn.)
Fall 2005: The Eagles start the season an abysmal 4-3. McNabb is badly injured, and the Birds have no running game, but, luckily, they're something like $12 trillion under the salary capand besides, everyone knows Owens' big mouth and insatiable thirst for attention are the real problems here. When asked by ESPN whether the team would be better off without an injured quarterback, Owens says yeah, you know what? We probably would be. In turn, the Eagles decide they'd be better off without his tough-talking, high-octane personality. Owens is sent home and will never suit up in Philly again. Fans cheer getting rid of this "cancer" from the clubhouse. Eskin announces a funeral will be held for T.O. jerseys. The Eagles lose their next two games, and the phrase "better off" drowns in the Schuylkill River.
Suffice it to say, Terrell Owens is an Eagle no more.
Now, here's what gets me about the Owens situation. His contract "dispute" came so out of nowhere that, frankly, I can't blame anyone for thinking it was ridiculous. The guy did just sign a seven-year deal last year. And it was, indeed, for a whole lot of money. For what the Eagles were paying him, Owens was out of line for willfully disrupting the clubhouse. If that's your anti-T.O. argument, I agree with you. I spent most of the summer wishing this guy would stop causing trouble and shut his stupid mouth. But from the very beginning, average sports fansand many sports reportershave been responding to Owens out of pure, unhinged schadenfreude. When faced with the news that Owens wanted a new contract, people shouted: "But he already makes enough money!" And that's got to be one of the lamest arguments of all time.
Think about this for a moment here. How can one make "enough" money, exactly? Or, for that matter, "too much"? Is that even possible? Anyone who says this has no idea how wealth is created. Nor do they know the first thing about how markets work. Yes, there's such a thing as being greedy. But if you don't like how much athletes are paid, stop going to the games. Otherwise, put on your hat and drink your beer.
Another thing that bothers me about the T.O. situation is the overriding sentiment around Philly the last few weeks, which, based on the countless fans I've heard interviewed by local news stations, is that Owens picked the wrong city to pull this stunt in. "He shouldn't've done this here," people are saying. "Philadelphia is a blue-collar town." Well, that may be true, but what the hell does it even mean? This is a blue-collar town, so no one's allowed to ask for more money? That seems fair.
True, on some level, T.O. was a "cancer" in the clubhouse. But that's easy to say now, after seeing how he acted. Back when he first asked for a new contract, he was fresh off his Super Bowl performance, and fans had no reasonhis tumultuous days in San Francisco notwithstandingto assume the worst. For all anyone knew, T.O. wasn't even asking for anything outrageous. He and Rosenhaus could've been looking for nothing more than a guarantee on the existing contract's lucrative third year. Granted, this turned out not to be the case, but it's interesting how no one waited to find out. As soon as fans heard T.O. was looking to renegotiate (or more specifically, as soon as they heard he signed with Rosenhaus), they quickly jumped on the "This is a blue-collar town"/"T.O. already makes enough money" bandwagon. Maybe it's me, but I find this a little peculiar. For a town that's so boastfully blue-collar, Philadelphians were awfully quick to side with management here.
Finally, if there's any merit to this blue-collar argument, then the anti-T.O. consensus around Philly is hypocritical, whether you side with Eagles management or not. Two weeks ago, workers for Philly's mass transit system, SEPTA, brought the city to a crawl when they went on strike for better benefits. And as we speak, another strike is taking place in nearby Pennsbury School District, where teachers are demanding better benefits and pay. T.O.'s contract demands may have been ridiculous, and his behavior may have humiliated both himself as well as his teammates, but he never skipped a game, he never crippled an already trafficky city, and he never shut down schools and forced hundreds of working parents to make arrangements for their kids. Owens is a law-abiding, union-dues-paying football player. And up until his very last game with the Eagles, he always gave it his all on the field. If you want to have a discussion on athletes' salaries, fine. We can have that discussion. But how many of those people who complained to Howard Eskin would've picketed outside the stadium if they didn't like their contracts? Would they prefer it if that's what T.O. had done?
Look, we all know it was Terrell Owens' anticsnot his contract demandsthat ultimately led the team to get rid of him. The Eagles were under no obligation to pay him more money. They weren't required to put up with his whining, either. They gave him a shot, and it didn't work out. So be it. That's business. I'm not going to sit here and defend his behavior. He acted like a four-year-old, and it's his own fault for squandering so much goodwill. I don't expect blue-collar people in a blue-collar town to sympathize with the financial "woes" of an obvious multimillionaire (Lord knows I don't). But most Americans want as much money out of their jobs as possible, and there's no reason why athletes shouldn't want the same. So vilify Terrell Owens for going about this like a crybaby idiot. Accuse him of marring the Eagles' season, if that's what you think he did. But don't call him a monster just for requesting more money. He may be selfish, and he may be greedy, but we're the ones wearing NFL jerseys and t-shirts. We created the monster here.
Besides, the Eagles are something like $12 trillion under the salary cap. You mean to tell me they couldn't just pay this guy to shut up and help them win?