Now that the glow of his reality-TV-show life has inevitably faded, Terrell Owens is left with this ugly truth: He’s squandered so much good will, traded in enough talent for shallow adulation and so-often exchanged your good name for fleeting press that he’s now more of an empty fraud than a famed star.
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I say this with no joy. I say this knowing that we all help put him there. I say this knowing that he has psychological problems that make this more tragedy than farce, more social commentary than Terrell Owens takedown.
How can you not feel sorry for the guy? Here, at the end of his career, two networks and a greedy public happily consumed his demise Tuesday because everyone knows what he alone does not: He is a live-action train wreck being exploited for our amusement. He’s placed himself in the trash bin of not just sports culture but American culture. He’s been dumped in the same sorry place as Lindsay Lohan, John Edwards, Paris Hilton and the other attention-craving bottom feeders he can count as his contemporaries.
It’s sad, it’s unfortunate, but it’s true. Terrell Owens is officially a joke. Exploited by us, exploited by himself, and now at the sorry end showcasing his pathetic place in football and American culture for everyone to see.
The fact that no NFL team sent a representative to check out his hour-long workout today simply proves the point that he’s veered from big-time talent to attention-grabbing distraction to this inevitable end: A has-been. In the days ahead, maybe someone will take a chance on his surgically repaired knee and his 37-year-old body and his penchant for problems and his can’t-help-myself ego. Maybe they won’t.
Either way, the tryout his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, set up Tuesday was not the hoped-for proof that he’s ready for a comeback. The hour-long circus, broadcast live on the NFL Network and hyped on ESPN, was just a glimpse into his sad future and squandered past.
Let’s not forget this is a man who has reportedly attempted to commit suicide more than once. He’s a joke — the world laughs at him now rather than with him. He alone seems to think the good times are still rolling. Fact is, people put up with a lot if the talent is there. Too much. And this is what life looks like when that talent fades, when all that’s left is the ugliness behind the gift, the spoiled special person who’s special no more.
It holds true eventually for sexy women and good-looking men who decide to develop nothing beyond their bodies and beauty. True for rich guys who build relationships around money once the money vanishes. True for the bosses who bully underlings into false friendships and faux respect the moment those bosses switch jobs.
True, at long last, for one Terrell Owens.
This, too, is true: Too often those people’s demons and struggles go unchecked because the talent is too important to disturb. Suicide attempts? Let’s focus on the game Sunday. Depression issues? Winning will make it all OK. An incessant and unhealthy need for attention and false love? Sure, you can have it all – just keep catching the ball.
Part of what’s happened here is that TO got sucked into the reality-TV machine. Or more accurately, perhaps, he walked into it with arms open wide, his sights set on false fame, increased attention and that momentary fix of having more eyes and more eyes and more eyes until the world can’t stand what it’s looking at.
But what’s really sad, and what says volumes about our culture, is that TO never needed to go all “Jersey Shore” with his life. He had the gifts and the skill and a chosen profession that put his name in lights, anyway. But this is 2011, this is America, and so the drug of a reality-TV life became too much.
He wanted what too many want: Glitz, attention, that instant gratification, that sudden rush of celebrity over substance — that pull so powerful even those with fame crave a higher level of it, more of it, a more-concentrated version of their name in lights.
Everywhere you look, people who can be more choose instead to be in the limelight. It’s modern-day whoring — selling the best part of oneself for a quick payday with no thought of the consequences.
In this new paradigm, the viewing public gets its, er, momentary kicks. And the new-age whores get kicked to the curb when what they have to offer leaves them; a sad joke before they realize no one was laughing with them. Just at them.
The list of the famous and not-so famous blinded by klieg lights is long and varied. There are the nobodies-to-somebodies like Chris Moneymaker (who kicked off the poker craze). There are athletes like Dennis Rodman, men who should have enough but crave more and more and more until they’re a caricature of themselves.
There’s the slew of shows like “Jersey Shore,” where everyday people unleash their lives on the viewing public, making us all a little worse off.
And this isn’t limited to sports or anonymous folks thrust onto TV.
Edwards decided running for president wasn’t enough. He needed more, more, more . . . and he got it — the attention, the inflated ego, the separation from reality, and, finally, a woman who was not his wife pregnant, allegations of misusing campaign contributions to cover it up, and soon enough a trial.
Take Lohan. The talented actress — and she was — announced today she’ll be posing for Playboy. Of course she will. Blessed with remarkable skill in a field tailor-made to make her famous, she instead let her fame — and the need for more, more, more — sour her.
So it’s appropriate that today, as Edwards’ trial approaches and Lohan goes all naked and Snooki remains a household name, the place Owens made for himself in the world crystallized once and for all. It’s not that no one cares about him. That’s the wrong way to look at it. They do. The cameras came, the chatter spread, I and other writers chose to write about the man. Owens got what he wanted. He got 15 minutes more. It’s what’s been lost that’s the issue: his respect, his place in the game, his chance to return from his reality-TV life and be something more substantial.
Maybe the Bears will take a flyer on the once-great wide receiver. Maybe another middling team in need of another weapon will ignore the years of trouble and drama in San Francisco, Dallas, Philly and elsewhere. If they do, it’ll be a fleeting chance. If they don’t, it’ll be no surprise.
Either way, this is Owens’ world now: A tryout no one comes to see, a joke he doesn’t get because he is the joke, a slew of problems that we should be mourning but too often mock. A joke that could end up having a decidedly somber punch line.
“I only need one team (to be interested), I only need one chance,” Owens told reporters at the event, held at a suburban Los Angeles high school. “With what I did today, it should open some eyes.”
He’s opened too many eyes, already. What’s there to be seen is sad and ugly.
Facts are facts, and here are TO’s: His contemporaries aren’t and will not be Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson or the others.
They are Snooki, Lohan, Hilton and all the others who traded whomever they were for whatever person would get the world to watch.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.