I'm not a football writer. If I knew enough about football to write about it, then I wouldn't perennially finish out of the money in my fantasy leagues, and I probably wouldn't still be a Bears fan, either. But look at the title. Sometimes things happen in sports that are so monumental that they effect us all, like how blowing up the moon would totally wreak havoc on the tides here on Earth. Hang on to that outer space metaphor, I'm going to come back to it in a second.
Terrell Owens, the staggeringly talented Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, tried to commit suicide last night. Reports last night had indicated that Owens had somehow had an allergic reaction to the medication he'd been taking as part of his treatment for a broken finger. He was taken to Baylor Medical Center where doctors were reportedly attempting to induce vomiting. His publicist, already in full spin mode, was quoted as saying "this is not serious."
This is serious.
Owens' behavior since he was a San Francisco 49er has been, to put it mildly, irregular. When he arrived in Philadelphia to join the contending Eagles, things escalated. After a heroic performance coming off of injury in a Super Bowl defeat, T.O. first threw his quarterback, Donovan McNabb, under a bus and then engaged in a spectacularly bizarre and overhyped contract holdout. Owens has been such a regular fixture in the headlines of sports websites and the conversations of sports talk radio shows that many fans initially reacted to the news of his "allergic reaction" with sighs of exhaustion or even yelps of anger that T.O. was in the news yet again. Not least myself.
But here is the thrust of it: Terrell Owens is clearly not a mentally healthy individual. This has been obvious for years. But because he is gifted with prodigious speed and miraculous strength, he has been allowed to continue without the medical attention needed to save his life. When Owens escaped the Eagles to sign with the Cowboys, the stories written were not about whether allowing him to continue playing football as if nothing had happened in Philadelphia was medically prudent. They were about whether his addition made Dallas instantly a championship contender, and how many #81 Cowboys jerseys NFL.com was selling, and in which round of your fantasy draft you would want to pick up Terrell Owens. Because he was still able to perform on a football field, no one had much interest in what else might be troubling T.O.
As someone who has intimate personal experience with mental illness, this whole story leaves me numb. It makes me wish I didn't care about sports as much as I do. By spending so much of my limited income on tickets, jerseys, out-of-market cable packages, and licensed video games, am I complicit in this system? The system that allowed a man that anyone who's ever watched SportsCenter knows is gravely sick to get to the point where he would want to take his own life? Because the NFL made him a star, Owens believed that the laws that apply to everyone else in the world didn't apply to him. He rejected any suggestion of professional help as just another ploy by the "critics" his ever-mounting paranoia wouldn't let him ignore. The Cowboys and the NFL were still willing to let him play football, even accomodating him more than they would most other players, because he's such an incredible athletic specimen. Owens sat out most of the preseason with a fishy injury. Bill Parcells, one of the most hardline, old-school authoritarian coaches in the business, didn't push him and wouldn't even talk to the media about it, giving T.O. the further impression that the rest of the universe's rules weren't for him.
Ancient astronomers thought that the sun, the planets, and the stars rotated on other planes far in the heavens. We could no sooner go out and reach them than they could come down and visit us. The laws of the earth were not the laws of the heavens. Terrell Owens, because he can catch a football, knock over five guys, and run eighty yards for a touchdown, thought he was on another plane of existence. It doesn't work that way. Gravity and entropy and all of those good things from high school physics apply the same in the Horsehead Nebula as they do here. The same fallibilities with which a struggling freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado has to deal with can fell one of the richest, most famous, and most breathtakingly physically gifted men in America.