In the T.O. Twilight Zone, even antitrust has a place


November 30, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

I have a new theory about Terrell Owens. The NFL's terrible toddler not only has the ability to make an ass of himself under almost any circumstance, but he also possesses special psychic power to draw other - seemingly reasonable - people into his web of idiotic intrigue.

How else do you explain respected Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter suddenly popping up Monday and threatening to look into the possibility that the Philadelphia Eagles violated federal antitrust laws when they suspended T.O. and made it clear that he would not play again this season?

How else do you explain the Eagles filing a tampering complaint against Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for talking in general terms about Owens' likely availability next year?

For that matter, how else do you explain Jones suddenly getting it into his head that one of the biggest malcontents in the history of football would be a nice addition to America's Team?

Let's start with Specter, who inexplicably injected himself into a controversy that already was settled by arbitrator Richard Bloch and left antitrust experts scratching their heads with his suggestion that the government might get involved in the case.

There is room to argue with the Bloch ruling, which rubber-stamped the Eagles' decision to sideline Owens for the rest of the season, but there are no legitimate antitrust implications - unless Specter wants to make the revolutionary case that signing someone to an exclusive contract is restraint of trade.

Obviously, Specter and his staff quickly came to their senses, because he announced yesterday that the Senate Judiciary Committee was too busy to deal with the issue and pawned it off on the Department of Justice, where it is likely to be quietly swept under the rug.

The Eagles have indicated that they will pay Owens the remainder of his salary for this season after he completes the suspension. Whether they choose to put him on the field at that point has nothing to do with illegal market manipulation, and it is curious that a member of Congress would even broach such a silly concept in light of the fact that Major League Baseball has had a legally unsupportable antitrust exemption for almost a century.

Maybe I'm just a small-government guy, but I've got to believe that our public servants in Washington have better things to do than worry about the temporary roster status of one insufferable millionaire athlete ... though the thought of T.O. and equally irritating agent Drew Rosenhaus testifying at a Senate hearing is almost too entertaining to pass up.

"Mr. Rosenhaus ... "

"Next question!"

"But Mr. Rosenhaus ... "

"Next question!"

Frankly, I'm not sure what to think about the Eagles tampering complaint against the Cowboys. NFL rules prohibit team officials from talking publicly about the acquisition of players who are under contract to other teams, so Jerry Jones might - technically - have been tampering when he said on a radio show that he has a history of salvaging controversial players like Owens.

I just don't see why the Eagles would even care. They have made it clear that he will be traded or released after the season, so the fact that Jones has hinted he might be interested can only increase Owens' value.

Maybe it's the principle of the thing, but I was under the impression that the Eagles suspended Owens because his behavior and the controversy surrounding him had become a huge distraction to the team. Now, the Eagles have used a relatively flimsy pretext to ratchet up the controversy again.

Nobody said that it has to make sense, and with anything involving Owens, it usually doesn't, but Jones' comments - when asked if he might be interested in Owens - seem pretty harmless to me.

"In general, I am a risk-taker," he said. "We've gone down that road. I probably have a propensity to try and make things work. ... A top receiver could flourish with Drew Bledsoe. That's always appealing."

There are NFL bylaws in place to discourage that kind of talk, specifically "any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL."

If I were running the Eagles, however, I would get right on the phone and tell Jones to put his draft picks where his mouth is. They might just find out that Owens is tamper-proof.

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