He's a picture of innocence, but T.O. faces Ravens' jury

October 28, 2004|By DAVID STEELE

THE PLEAS OF ignorance have been the funniest aspect of T.O. Week here in town (known in Philly as T.O.'s Sort-Of-Ex-Team Week).

Terrell Owens doesn't know why everything is so stirred up. Ray Lewis doesn't know what the hubbub's about, either. And the brief no-comment comment by Ozzie Newsome a few days ago ended with, "I'm not talking anymore about it."

If Newsome had only been that reticent last spring during that phone call with T.O.'s agent, so painstakingly detailed in Owens' book. More on that later.

His denials to the contrary, Owens has played this latest Vengeance Week gambit perfectly. He's proved once again that the more he stirs it up Monday through Saturday, the more he rips it up on Sunday.

He faces a formidable opponent this week, though, and only time will tell if his mouth wrote a check the rest of him can't cash.

Waiting at the teller's window is the aforementioned Lewis, who professed his lack of interest in it all as earnestly as Owens has, but did offer this yesterday in light of the published grenades Owens has lobbed at him, his GM and his team: "Remember, a fool can have an opinion. Only a wise man knows how to keep his tongue."

Trust that one, because it came on the record before by far the season's biggest media contingent at a Ravens practice.

But how much can you believe about the interaction among Owens, Newsome and Owens' agent, David Joseph? According to Owens' increasingly infamous autobiography, Catch This! Going Deep With the NFL's Sharpest Weapon, at one point in the negotiations to bring Owens to Baltimore, Newsome said to Joseph about T.O., "Sometimes a black man's gotta be slapped."

Notable is Newsome's limited reaction to it: He didn't explicitly deny saying it. Owens, meanwhile, insists he was offended by it, and said yesterday at the Eagles' practice: "That was pretty much one of the main reasons why I didn't want to go there."

Suuuuuuuure it was.

But even before that's addressed, there's this: Owens probably was offended by it. Newsome likely didn't say it to cozy up to him. More important, he likely didn't say it believing it would end up in a book, then in the paper, then on TV and on the talk-radio circuit.

It sounds as if it was intended to stay in the house, yet was indiscriminately spoken out of the house.

This is a byproduct of cultures bumping against each other, of the mainstream seeing and hearing what it isn't accustomed to hearing, about others and about itself. It's made for painfully uncomfortable interactions in unlikely places.

Ask Dusty Baker after his discussion of suntans last year, or Milton Bradley after his overtly public "Uncle Tom" remark earlier this month, or Bill Cosby after his lecture on the morals of the underclass a few months ago. All were conversations certain segments of America generally don't hear.

Every group of people, from immediate families to entire races and ethnicities, has them. Most of them know when and how to keep those comments out of public earshot. If nothing else, Newsome managed to avoid uttering that phrase on Nightline or to a Sports Illustrated reporter, as certain general managers and relief pitchers did.

Why he said it to the agent of a volatile but important player he was trying to acquire, regardless of the agent's race (Joseph is white), is another story.

On the other hand, as they say, it ain't right, but you can understand it. In this particular case, that is.

The Ravens might not have had the quarterback the Eagles could offer, but they did have this element that is crucial to any T.O. employer: a locker room and an organization that could withstand the volcano he is - and, further, could make sure it rarely erupts, and certainly cool the lava when it does. Newsome alluded to that in his remarks about the veterans who would have surrounded Owens here.

Those veterans, led by none other than "wise man" Ray Lewis, wouldn't have let T.O. become the "fool" and take them down with him. They might have occasionally had to do so by ... well, slapping him.

Figuratively, of course.

Or not.

The Eagles have that element in their locker room. The 49ers didn't - weak organizations are prey to such destructive characters. All of which makes one wonder if it all ends up in the book and becomes fodder for public discussion if the phrase in question had been spoken, in private, by Donovan McNabb, whom Owens admires, respects and jumped through hoops to play with.

Believe if you want that Newsome's remarks disturbed Owens enough to turn him away from Baltimore. But then you'd be buying into the idea that T.O. hadn't already made up his mind to be in Philly and wasn't looking for extra reasons to dismiss the Ravens.

Right now, all the what-ifs are irrelevant. All scores will be settled on Sunday in Philadelphia. Slap-off is at 1 p.m.

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