How the mighty have fallen.
Once a tabloid and trash TV darling – not to mention a seriously prolific former NFL wide receiver – Terrell Owens has been reduced to appearing on the Dr. Phil talk show to confront the mothers of his three children.
The focus of the show is to allegedly allow Owens, who last played for the Arena Football League’s Allen Wranglers, to address his failures in paying child support. According to Dr. Phil (McGraw), the opportunity to air dirty laundry in front a vast syndicated audience could prove beneficial for the mercurial Owens.
"He says he wants to set the record straight. He wants to tell people he's not the person the media has depicted him of being."
Of course, anyone who has watched even five minutes of a Dr. Phil show can smell a set-up. Behind on child support payments and recently declaring poverty, Owens will likely be the victim of an on-air ambush. Take three disgruntled women who jumped at the chance for an excessive exercise of publicity and a media huckster hiding under the skin of a pseudo-psychologist and the script has already been written.
However, the shame of this whole episode is that Owens – admittedly one of the most bastardized media creations in history – needs Dr. Phil (the media mogul, not the doctor). Just like Owens needed the Allen Wranglers, the former 15-year NFL veteran desperately needs another payday and a small scrap of relevancy in a media world that boasts the attention span of an ADHD addled 5-year old.
Yet, Owens’ appearance will likely be a blip on ESPN’s ticker – which is a far cry from just a few years ago when even the most mundane “TO” story dominated shows like Sports Center.
Back when Owens proved more reliable on the field, his every action off of it was hyper-scrutinized to the point of becoming obsolete. Owens the personality separated from Owens the player and person to form a completely separate entity – one that only existed in the inane realm of sports talk radio and choreographed argument shows.
Owens somehow morphed into “TO” which then manifested itself as the token cautionary example of any outspoken player deemed a “diva”, “petulant” or even “cancerous.” Certainly, Owens helped to feed such an image by verbally lashing most of his former quarterbacks and generally acting aloof. However, when Owens tried to separate from the “TO” image via his VH1 reality show, a more damning adjective was added to the list.
Simply put, Terrell Owens is not terribly exciting. When removed from the “TO” image created by media such as ESPN, Owens is just another aging football star who suddenly has a lot in common with other former players.
First, Owens is broke. Similar to 75% of former NFL players, Owens squandered a fortune through bad investments, poor planning and by surrounding himself with shady people.
Second, Owens mistakenly thought his superior football skills would translate to other avenues of life. Similar to Tiki Barber or Jerome Bettis, Owens is realizing that his football talents far outweighed his personality. When left to rely exclusively on personal charms or intellect, we’re reminded that most former players are just that….former players and not actors or broadcasters.
Finally, Owens is probably now realizing that the media machine that created “TO” has essentially abandoned him. Check out a site like Deadspin’s Bristolmetrics to realize just how fickle the sports media can be. Yesterday’s “TO” is irrelevant – much in the way that Owens’ Dr. Phil appearance will become instantly forgettable.
As for those who have replaced Owens in this minute’s media cycle, lessons should be heeded. ESPN’s fascination with Tim Tebow exposed intriguing divides not only between Christians and Agnostics, but also football purists and casual fans. Yet, one trade later, Tebow is now being volunteered for special team’s duty in New York while Peyton Manning tries to revive his career in Denver.
For Tebow, his late-game heroics and Being There mysticism created a narrative steeped in spiritualism and unusually genuine goodwill – items that run counter to our cynical and often acidic culture. However, once exposed as a pedestrian quarterback and now likely to be only spotlighted as a mere H-Back, Tebow can learn from Owens by figuring out an exit plan once the media cruelly dumps him.
Unfortunately for Tebow, there is a lot of work to be done. Stripping away the Christian exoskeleton and humble pie demeanor leaves very little. Or, have you ever listened to Tebow talk? Or more importantly, have you ever heard him say anything of consequence – at least in a topic unrelated to God?
While personally remaining religiously neutral, I can’t imagine a fairly inarticulate Tebow giving a riveting Easter address to a crowd of 15,000. Certainly, the power of Tebow’s faith and his unflinching evangelical drive is his selling point as a media personality and outweighs such a deficiency. Yet, knowing the way our media works, Tebow’s act will eventually grow stale and everyone will move on to the next big thing.
Just ask “TO.”