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Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Terrell Owens and Jumping to Conclusions

As you know, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens may have attempted to commit suicide last night by overdosing on the painkillers that he was using for his hand injury. Thankfully, Owens is okay physically, as he checked out of the hospital earlier this morning. He will address the media later this afternoon. It should be noted that while an internal police report that was somehow leaked to the media found that Owens did try to committ suicide, both Michael Smith and Michael Irvin of ESPN report that Owens is adamantly denying that he attempted to commit suicide. Owens asserts that he suffered an adverse reaction to the medicine.

Without knowing more confirmed facts, it's impossible to know what happened or why whatever happened happened. We might never know. But interestingly, many media and fans have immediately accepted the storyline that Owens tried to commit suicide, and they have also put on their amateur psychologist and psychiatrist hats to offer pseudo-clinical explanations.

Some believe that Owens is simply a bad guy who does destructive things, and that this is just his latest ploy for publicity. This has been the reaction of many message boards and talk radio discussions.

Others view the apparent suicide as a sad chapter in the life of someone who has made a lot of bad decisions. For instance, C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle blames Owens for "blowing" his career:
"There are plenty of kids from tiny towns and humble backgrounds who hit the big time and manage just fine. He had a miracle chance and he blew it."
Still others take a more sympathetic view and speculate that Owens' self-centeredness reflects that he has been masking other problems that are not his fault. For instance, MSNBC's Mike Celizic posits that Owens' problems can be explained by his childhood:
"Whatever Owens’ problems are, they go way back to his childhood, when he was raised by a strict grandmother who didn’t allow him to leave the house except to go to school and church."
But perhaps the best reaction is the least interesting one: we have no idea what happened and no one can honestly say that they saw "this"--whatever "this" really is-- coming. Interestingly, that is the view that trained psychologists seem to be endorsing. For instance, ESPN interviewed sports psychologist Dr. Joel Fish who finds that nothing in Owens' past indicated signs of potential suicide. Dr. Fish also cautions against jumping to conclusions because a small change in the facts could make what happened look much more like an inadvertent overdose than a suicide attempt.

I wonder what the reaction would be if a different player had experienced the exact same incident? We'll hopefully never know, but if you substitute Tom Brady or Donovan McNab for Terrell Owens, I have a feeling people would be a lot more patient in waiting for the facts to come out before drawing conclusions on what happened and why whatever happened happened. I also wonder if the "internal police report" concluding that Owens tried to commit suicide would have been leaked if the player had been someone else.


In the age of electronic immediacy, the danger of "Dr. Phil syndrome" is preeminent. Instant psychological profiles, distance diagnosis and amateur pop psychology (with time for commericial breaks!) seem to be par for the course by today's "experts" and journalists. I wonder if anyone caught in the media hoopla bothered to stand back and wait for the facts prior to writing the psychobabble I saw throughout the day.

I also wonder if we haven't forgotten, as a society, that psychological diagnosis and healing is meant to take time and effort.

Anonymous Jason Chung -- 9/28/2006 2:24 AM  


EXCELLENT comments!!!

Anonymous Richard Mock -- 9/28/2006 10:32 AM  

Just wait for his first game in Philly, where the fans will probably throw pill bottles onto the field.

Do you think T.O. will work a suicide routine into an end zone celebration, to poke fun at the media attention?

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 9/28/2006 10:44 AM  

I am agree in awe at the fact that all of this speculation happened so quickly. Yes, it is very newsworthy that Owens was taken to the hospital, afterall he is a premier figure in sports today. And I couldn't agree with Jason more, that it is the need for immediate answers. I think it goes deeper than the "Dr. Phil syndrome". I think it derives from our ability to have answers 24-7 in the form of constant communication with cell phones and internet, 24-hour cable news like CNN, FOX, and even ESPN. It is like we are driven to be the first to know and the first to understand the new "Breaking News Story". I found it humerous (and slightly disturbing) that last night on ESPN they were already discussing the implications this had for the Cowboys and whether they should play him.... WHO CARES! We dont even know exactly what happened, and its between Owens and Parcells. I mean, if he DID try to commit suicide, how shallow are we, as a society, that the next question we wonder is what impact this will have on the cowboys!! Even if not, I hope we as a society learn our lesson soon, because, as we all know... Curiosity Killed the Cat!

Anonymous Aaron E. -- 9/28/2006 12:00 PM  

I understand that Terrell Owens claims that this incident was just a mistake and that he is a healthy and stable person. And I DO believe him. Say what you will about the man, he is not one to lie. In fact, how many times has he gotten in trouble because he told the truth about someone or something? Don’t get wrong, “T.O.” irks me as much as any other spoiled-know-it-all athlete, but I have to say he’s honest.

Anonymous Michael Capers -- 9/28/2006 12:21 PM  

When you consider the real story yesterday (the high school in Colorado) you just have to laugh at T.O. and his agent and publicist. Laughing at Parcells and Jerry would not hurt either. At the end of the day, isn't the real issue whether or not to keep T.O. in your fantasy football lineup this week?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/28/2006 12:37 PM  

I think I now understand why Terrell Owens has a generally negative perception with the public. He has who is officially the worst publicist in the world.

Did you see his press conference at which she also spoke? "Terrell has TWENTY-FIVE MILLION REASONS to be alive," delivered with a self-congratulatory smirk by his publicist. Sure, there are zero rich people out there who are depressed or contemplating suicide. Plus, athletes bragging about how rich they are is always good publicity, Ms. Publicist.

Then there was "when I see a man of his statue (sic)." Ms. Etheridge, if you want to be a publicist, learn the English language.

I found Owens believable and sincere, but I found his publicist quite the opposite. Find a new PR person, Terrell.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/28/2006 1:34 PM  

Like we've discussed on this blog before - when we have little information about an athlete's situation, we're prone to making assumptions based on their image, background and performance record.

Given TO's end zone dances and off-the-field contract tantrums, it's easy to assume that this was a publicity stunt. Of course, just because it's easy doesn't necessarily have any bearing on its accuracy.

Even with the new information being released (by a "trainer" and confidant who apprently introduced him to hyperbaric chambers and is at least in some part responsible for Terrell taking 30 supplements a day) that he didn't get to go to his kid's birthday in California and that his fiance just broke off their marriage, I would still be extremely reticent to throw terms like depression and bipolar disorder around.

Incidentally, Mike Celizic is one of the worst sportswriters in the business - I'm guessing he wikipedia'd Owens, read his bio, and projected some kind of psychoanalysis on the whole situation. Notice how quickly he had to turn to an anecdote from his personal experience (and did he compare TO with a child molester??). He's prone to doing similar things with baseball statistics as well.

Last, I'm shocked that anyone is saying anything about TO "blowing his career" - if TO retired tomorrow, he would go down as one of the best wide receivers ever to play the game.

Blogger Satchmo -- 9/28/2006 3:23 PM  

Thank you all for these outstanding comments. Sometimes a post makes the comments, but sometimes, as we see here, the comments really make the post. Here are my thoughts:

Jason, I agree with Richard: excellent comments. I also think your idea of a "Dr. Phil Syndrome" is very true and extremely apparent with how the media and public perceive Terrell Owens.

Chapel Heel, You're right, it would be interesting if T.O. does something on the field to effectively denounce how so many media and sports fans have treated him in the last 48 hours. And, yeah, you never know what Philly fans will do!

Aaron E., Great point about our craving for immediate information. And I think that invites the question of how we would respond to the exact same situation if it occurred back in, say, 1990 when people didn't have on-line resources and when cable TV was much more limited. In a way, I think the existing technological medium has shaped how we look at T.).

Michael Capers, That's a good point: for whatever faults T.0. may have, a lack of veracity doesn't seem to be one of them.

Anonymous 1, You're right. I think a surprisingly large number of people were interested in the T.O. story because of its fantasy football implications. I won't name names, but two people who I know very well were interested in the story mainly because of that reason.

Anonymous 2, That's a good point: a lot of people seem to think that T.O's publicist didn't do a good job at a crucial time in her client's career.

Will (Satchmo), You make a number of outstanding points and this one is especially worthy of highlighting: "[W]hen we have little information about an athlete's situation, we're prone to making assumptions based on their image, background and performance record.". That simply couldn't be said better. It is 100% right on.

Blogger Michael McCann -- 9/28/2006 7:17 PM  

To me, Terrell Owens is biggest jerk of all time. First off, for as much money as he makes, he shouldn't be allowed to run his mouth as he does....regardless of how talented he is. I would love to see him get barred from the NFL for being such an ass! Hey Terrell, there have been, and I'm sure there will be, better recievers out there so get off your soapbox and face reality.
I'm a psychology major in my junior year, and it seems to me that this "incident" was obviously an attempted suicide. Ok, if it if were a "reaction" to herbal supplements, who in the hell takes 30 pills anyway? This idiot should be stripped from all NFL records and be barred from the league. I personally would absolutely LOVE to see him serving burgers at McDonald's. In closing, shut up Terrell....your a piece of shit!!
-Matt Lambert

Blogger Matt Lambert -- 10/03/2006 9:12 PM  



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