Thursday, September 28, 2006

Terrell Owens – time to fire your publicist

Wednesday was a day Terrell Owens is never going to forget. In a football career that has been filled with inane, inept and at times embarrassing behavior, Wednesday was another example of the evolution of how important it has become in the ‘information age’ to, at all times control the message you are attempting to disseminate.

The morning began with the mainstream media news services (CNN, MSNBC and Fox News) leading their newscasts with reports that Owens had attempted to kill himself Tuesday evening; and ended late Wednesday afternoon with Owens publicist Kim Etheredge suggesting in no uncertain terms that the Dallas Police Department had lied in a police report filed early Wednesday morning.

First reported by Dallas TV station WFAA and then by The Dallas Morning News, a police report obtained by WFAA suggested in no uncertain terms Owens had tried to commit suicide Tuesday evening. According to the police report (a sworn statement by the Dallas police department) officers answered the rescue call made by the Dallas Fire and Rescue to Owens Dallas home. According to the report: when asked by the police if she believed Owens was depressed Etheredge answered, “Yes.” Late Wednesday afternoon, a disheveled Etheredge told a packed media conference at the Dallas Cowboys training facility the police were lying – she had never made that statement. The police report also said that Etheredge had told them she had tried to remove at least two pills from Owens mouth. Etheredge also said that never took place. To suggest not once, but twice the Dallas Police Department had lied in a police report are serious allegations that are certain to keep this story alive indefinitely.

The story took on a life of its own very early Wednesday morning and progressively (but very quickly) lost control. ESPN Radio, Sporting News Radio, Fox Sports Radio and the nationally syndicated Jim Rome show abandoned their scheduled programs offering wall-to-wall T.O. suicide watch reports. The NFL Network offered live wall-to-wall coverage. ESPN offered extensive coverage on several of its seven different cable networks.

ESPN mid-morning host Colin Cowherd proved once again how unformed and a terrible radio host he is. Cowherd led off his show with Dr. Joel Fish, a Sports Psychologist, followed that with ESPN The Magazine’s Tom Friend and then went to The Miami Herald’s Dan LeBatard. Both Fish and Friend shared Cowherd’s sensationalistic view on the days events -- it was time to lock Terrell Owens up, but when LeBatard tried to suggest maybe everyone was getting ahead of themselves in reporting this story, Cowherd countered LeBatard’s view saying it was possible but highly improbable.

During his show Cowherd read verbatim (at least according to Colin) the police report. Colin announced his source was “The Smoking Gun.” According to Colin, The Smoking Gun is the ‘definitive source for police reports’ ESPN is owned by ABC. ABC’s parent company is Disney. When a company owned by media giant Disney suggests “The Smoking Gun” is an important media source – heaven help Mickey, Pluto, Goofy and Donald.

The challenge that Cowherd, Jim Rome and others faced Wednesday was how important accurate information is in the age of instant communications. In fairness to Cowherd, he had no choice but to focus his radio show on a larger than life story. Doing his best not to sound like Fraser Crane or any other dime store psychologist, Cowherd said several times he wasn’t a psychologist. That didn’t stop him from offering his opinions of the ‘troubling life’ of Terrell Owens.

Throughout his football career Terrell Owens has often been his own worst enemy. Consider these selected career highlights:

• Sept. 24, 2000: As a member of the San Francisco 49’ers Owens celebrated a pair of TDs in a win over the Cowboys by posing on the star logo at midfield in Dallas. Result: suspended for a week.

• Oct. 14, 2002: Celebrates a TD catch on Monday Night Football by pulling a marker from his sock and autographing the ball.

• Dec. 15, 2002: Celebrates a TD catch in a loss to Green Bay by taking pompoms from a cheerleader and dancing behind the end zone.

• Aug. 13, 2004: In interview with Playboy magazine, when asked if he thinks Garcia is gay, responds: "Like my boy tells me: If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat."

• Nov. 15, 2004: Draws criticism for a MNF promo in which "Desperate Housewives" actress Nicollette Sheridan, dressed only in a towel, asks Owens to skip the game then drops the towel and jumps into his arms. Later apologizes.

• Aug. 10, 2005: After a shouting match with Reid during training camp, is sent home for a week. A circus ensues as he works out in the driveway in front of his home.

• Nov. 3, 2005: In an interview, says the team would be better off with Brett Favre starting at QB than with injured McNabb and blasts the team for not marking his 100th career TD catch.

• Nov. 5, 2005: Philadelphia suspends Owens over the latest comments and two days later, the Eagles extend the suspension to four games and tell Owens not to return.

• Nov. 23, 2005: An arbitrator rules that the Eagles' suspension was justified and that the team is within its rights to deactivate Owens for the remainder of the season.

• March 14, 2006: Philadelphia Eagles cut Owens.

• March 18, 2006: Four days after being cut by the Eagles, Owens signs a three-year, $25 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys that includes a $5 million bonus and a $5 million salary in 2006. "I'm a star among stars now," Owens says at a news conference.

• July 5, 2006: "T.O.", the second setting-the-record-straight autobiography Owens has written in 22 months, is released five days ahead of schedule. The biggest revelation: His relationship with Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb soured for good when Owens was told "Shut the (expletive) up" in a huddle. McNabb later calls the autobiography a "children's book."

• July 13, 2006: At his first book signing, Owens claims he was misquoted in his autobiography, saying he didn't say his return in time for the February 2005 Super Bowl was "heroic," even though that's what he wrote. He called it one of the words chosen by his co-author.

• Sept 27, 2006: A police document obtained by media outlets before being formally released by authorities says Owens was depressed and attempted suicide, which Owens later denied. He said he became groggy after mixing painkillers with supplements. Publicist Kim Etheredge, who made the 911 call, denied she removed pills from Owens' mouth, as described in the police document, and said it was unfair for anyone to think Owens would kill himself.

There is no proof whatsoever; beyond what is now a disputed police report that Terrell Owens doesn’t have full control of his mental faculties. To draw any other conclusions that Terrell Owens based on his behavior pattern of the last seven years is mentally unbalanced is nothing short of irresponsible reporting by people who aren’t qualified to offer their opinions on a very sensitive subject.

Has Terrell Owens behaved badly at times? Does Terrell Owens enjoy being the center of attention? Has Terrell Owens made the wrong choices at times? The answer to all three questions is a resounding yes, but that does not offer any evidence that Terrell Owens is suicidal. It doesn’t even suggest Terrell Owens actions show a pattern of deviant behavior. It does show Terrell Owens might have made some better choices in life.

Once again, there are suggestions Terrell Owens behavior is based on his upbringing. Terrell Owens’ mother and grandmother played the key parenting roles in the development of Terrell Owens. There was no adult male figure in Terrell Owens life when he grew up. Owens credits his grandmother for being a guiding force in his life and has both tremendous respect and love for his mother. But can some of Terrell Owens actions as an adult be traced back to the lack of a father figure when he was a youngster? Undeniably the issue of single family homes, without a male figure and its impact on the understanding young boys have on the world has to have an impact on their actions as adults. However it does not suggest young males who grow up without a father figure are in anyway suicidal.

Does Terrell Owens enjoy being the center of attention? Terrell Owens is a high performance athlete who has lived his life in a bubble. Some of his actions may appear to be improper, but Terrell Owens is a product of a society that heaps praise on athletes for what they accomplish on their respective playing fields and seems to find whatever they do off their respective playing fields entertaining.

How big is T.O.’s image? According to Editor and Publisher: Universal Press Syndicate Wednesday sent an editor's advisory to "Tank McNamara's" clients because this Sunday's strip features a story line about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens.

There have been press reports saying Owens might have tried to kill himself yesterday by overdosing on pain medication.

The Oct. 1 comic -- sent to newspapers in late August -- features Owens as a bobble head doll and pokes fun at the controversial player for his training camp and off-field activities.

"In light of recent events, this may appear to readers as insensitive," said John Glynn, who edits "Tank" at Universal.

"Tank," a sports-related comic drawn by Bill Hinds and written by Jeff Millar, appears in about 120 newspapers.

There are more then 450 all-sports radio stations in America today. In 1986, there was one, New York’s Fan 1010 (the original frequency for the first all-sports radio station).

ESPN is 27-years old, and now includes seven different cable sports network. Monday night beat every other network (cable and over-the-air broadcasters) in establishing a new single night cable ratings record of 10.8 million viewers for Monday Night Football.

Wednesday was an example of the ‘genie getting out of the bottle.’ Driven by media frenzy, the Terrell Owens story was so out of control, CNN interrupted an ongoing high school hostage situation in Colorado for live coverage of Terrell Owens press conference. When did the reaction of a professional football player to a personal event in his life become more newsworthy then the lives of high school students? Time and time again, example after example, society continues to place athletes on an impossibly high pedestal. Wednesday may have been a bad day for Terrell Owens, an even worse day for some of those people close to him, but once again it was a day where the sports media embarrassed itself.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: