The posture of most sportswriters the day after is relief. They've decided, almost to a man, to accept the unbelievably flimsy excuse cooked up by Terrell Owens and his publicist so they can go back to breaking down the NFC and taking potshots at the Cardinals. Cue Jay Mariotti on "Around the Horn" this afternoon: "Can we puh-LEASE get back to talking about sports today?"
No, Jay. You really shouldn't. The Dallas police want an apology for the absurd claims made by Kim Etheredge that they deliberately concocted a phony police report containing Etheredge's account of removing pills from Owens's mouth and Owens's statement that he had tried to deliberately harm himself. As Deadspin has reported, there is gigantic, red-flashing precipitating event that happened in T.O.'s life earlier this week -- the woman to whom he was engaged broke up with him. If Owens was a political figure or a movie actor or a Hilton sister, journalists would be scrambling all over the place to to the truth here. But sports journalists are, apparently, cowards. They don't want to dig too deep because that would uncover a lot of unpleasant things about their business.
The thing that bothers me the most is the many, many professional sportswriters who have written pieces where the main thrust is "Well, T.O. just couldn't have committed suicide." They apparently know from watching him from the sidelines and maybe interviewing him once three or four years ago everything there is to know about his psyche. You know what? Anyone can attempt suicide. Rich people, successful people, seemingly happy people. No one is immune. It is profoundly offensive to the families of suicides and anyone who has ever suffered from mental illness to make broad categorical statements like "Oh, guys like him don't kill themselves." You don't know, and frankly, you don't deserve to have the job you have if you're going to write garbage like that.
I'm not saying for sure that Owens did definitively try to commit suicide. All that I am saying is a) it's certainly possible, as no one is "immune" to mental illness, b) he has a long record of curious past behavior, c) he's faced a great deal of stress lately between the broken engagement, the injury, and the relentlessly hyped upcoming game against his former Philadelphia team, d) he had been prescribed and was apparently taking these pain pills for 15 days without suffering any "allergic reactions," and e) either Owens and his publicist or the Dallas police are colossal cold-blooded liars and I sure as hell don't think it's the police.
If no one else is going to continue to ask questions, I'm going to do so. This story has really struck a nerve with me. Not that I ever much cared for Terrell Owens or even much do now. He is a human being and it's very distressing to see how many people think this is either hilarious or a huge scam. My unease stems not from that but from the way the story has been handled. I'm beginning to feel like sports journalism is an oxymoron. Why aren't sportswriters held to the same standards of truth and ethics that other reporters are? How can people write what they have written in the past several hours? Why are most sportswriters so willing to get past this difficult story and back into their comfort zone that they're willing to buy a steaming pile of grade-A bullplop? These are disturbing questions and I don't have answers for them. The worst part is, if the sportswriters are going to let it go, the NFL is going to let it go. And something is going to happen with Terrell Owens again, and next time, maybe he or others will get seriously hurt. Where is our sports reporting culture that allowing that is preferable than having to do some deep digging and facing up to difficult questions?