On the day Terrell Owens officially talked his way off the Philadelphia Eagles last week, it was written (in our sister paper, Newsday, among other places) and said (by ESPN's Sean Salisbury, for what that's worth) that Owens was the most selfish player in the history of sports.
As a fully vested member of the MTV, short-attention-span generation, this even embarrasses me. Let's all sit down, take a deep breath, sip some chai and try to cast our memories beyond Monday afternoon.
We're talking about a century and a quarter of professional sports, and we can't think of anybody worse than Terrell Owens? He's not even the most selfish athlete sent home by his team since the beginning of September, is he, Raffy?
Not to denigrate his feats, but it says here -- in a subjective list compiled through an unscientific survey of guys I hang around with -- that T.O. is no worse than fifth on the all-time list. That says a lot about the four names in front of him, but also a lot about the standards for this designation. The usual cast of moneygrubbers, malcontents, ball hogs, exhibitionists and locker-room poisons -- from every generation, mind you, not just the one after yours -- need not apply.
In an atmosphere in which a certain level of selfishness is almost required, one has to exceed the normal level of infatuation with oneself. If possible, you must drag your teammates, coaches, organization, even your entire sport, down with you.
With that in mind, these players just missed the cut:
Ty Cobb (he had many vices, selfishness being only one of them); Barry Bonds (he's not only no worse than Ted Williams, they're practically the same player separated by 50 years); Latrell Sprewell (coach-choking and the "gotta feed my family" line: quite a duo); Roger Clemens (a stone-cold mercenary; ask the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, and yes, Astros, with whom he doesn't have to travel when he's not pitching); John Elway, Eli Manning and Steve Francis (collectively, for whining their way off the teams that had drafted them); Ron Artest and Todd Bertuzzi (one inexcusable act is permissible, but again, the bar is high).
Which leaves us with this Top 10.
10. Randy Moss. The crazy comments, the half-hearted efforts, the fake mooning, the ride he gave the traffic cop on his car hood just make him another wide receiver diva. He makes this list for walking off the field last year before the game was over, while his Vikings teammates were taking one last desperate shot at winning.
9. Dennis Rodman. Tried to pass off pathetic cries for attention as libertarian displays of individuality. Got teams to set up separate rules for him just to get him on the court for games, then to look the other way when he got himself suspended frequently. Tolerable when his team won, a nightmare when it lost.
8. Bill Romanowski. Besides being an on-field thug and prototypical pillhead, he shattered a teammate's face and ended his career in an unprovoked practice-drill "fight," then tried to evade responsibility for it. Now he's trying to cash in on similar behavior with his new book.
7. The 1919 White Sox. The romanticizing of Eight Men Out (the book and movie) and Field of Dreams doesn't change the fact that they got back at their owner for underpaying them by throwing the World Series for gamblers' cash.
6. Pete Rose. The One Commandment in sports is: Don't bet on the games. He violated it, lied about it, kept trying to justify it and still wants to avoid the consequences for it. He had a choice between himself and the game he supposedly loved, and he chose himself.
5. Terrell Owens. Yes, you probably did deserve a little contract sweetening, but did you have to scorch everybody around you to get it?
4. Scottie Pippen. Thought about this one for exactly 1.8 seconds. The man refused to go into a playoff game because the final win-or-lose play was not designed for him. I nominate this as the most selfish act ever committed in a sporting event.
3. Tonya Harding. Almost defies comparison. Hiring criminals to break an opponent's kneecaps? She corrupted her country's Olympic qualifying, nearly eliminated one competitor and squeezed another out with her legal maneuvering to get on the team afterward. She makes T.O. look like the Gipper.
2. Rafael Palmeiro. If he has no personal integrity, that's one thing. If he has so little that he'll shove a respected teammate under the bus and put that player's integrity in doubt just to save his own skin, that makes him unique. Almost.
1. Kobe Bryant. If you've committed the above acts, but shove that teammate under while police are investigating you for rape, that puts you over the top. Such acts as complaining about the plane in which the Lakers flew you back and forth to your court appearances are icing on the cake.
Which, of course, he won't share with anyone.
Points after -- David Steele