Analyze this: Coverage has little insight

September 28, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Not much is clear about what happened Tuesday night at Terrell Owens' home, before and after the paramedics arrived or when the police talked to him. Even less sense can be made of what went on all day yesterday, when explanations were flying in every direction and crashing into each other.

This much, though, is certain: It could only have happened to Terrell Owens.

It's hard to believe that the chaos that spun around him all day yesterday, which got blanket coverage on television, sparked nonstop chatter on talk radio and online and got tongues flapping from coast to coast, would have swirled around any other NFL player, any other athlete, any other celebrity, period.

Think a similar report about, say, Derrick Mason (no disrespect; his life is as valuable as anybody's), would have caused networks to interrupt their programming and sports editors to rip up their front pages?

If news had broken that Shaun Alexander or Peyton Manning or Dwyane Wade or Pedro Martinez had been rushed to the hospital, that a police report had said that he'd admitted he was trying to "harm" himself, that the next afternoon he'd explained that it was a misunderstanding and that he'd only suffered a bad reaction to his painkillers, would that level of insanity have been unleashed?

Would America have been psychoanalyzing him, parsing every syllable he spoke, openly questioning his sincerity and his motives? Would the people in his inner circle find themselves thrust into the vortex this deeply? First his agent, Drew "Next Question" Rosenhaus, now with his own fast-food commercial; now, a year later, his publicist, Kim "That Police Report Is Wrong, Sort Of" Etheredge.

Handling T.O.'s interviews is getting to be like being on American Idol - you're sure to be "discovered."

Barry Bonds, Kobe Bryant and, recently, Alex Rodriguez have been dropped onto the couch by any number of armchair psychiatrists over the years - yet they all can go months without their every move being not just scrutinized and publicized, but also blasted into the outer reaches of the hype universe.

T.O., however, is a madness magnet the likes of which we've rarely seen and may never see again.

That's the problem, though. So much craziness surrounds everything he does and everything that happens to him, reality and the truth can get lost in the whirlwind of debris.

Even this morning, after seeing and hearing from the police report, the police spokesman, the emergency medical spokesman, Bill Parcells, Etheredge and T.O. himself, are we really clear on what happened Tuesday night? At the bare minimum, we know that between what the police report said happened and what Owens and Etheredge said happened lies a Grand Canyon of doubt. There's no way they all can be right, yet they apparently were all there at the same time.

Besides, though he's the biggest team destroyer in sports and one of the most selfish athletes in the history of this nation, Owens hasn't shown any signs of being a liar. He's more often been the opposite, honest to a painful fault about his feelings.

Yet we can't go on much more than that - what he has said and done in front of the cameras, a place he enjoys and loves to frequent. Away from the cameras, he's probably the biggest mystery of any current big-name athlete, definitely the biggest of any who has fought so hard to draw attention to himself.

When yesterday began with reports of a suicide attempt, I absolutely felt prepared to offer up what I thought I knew from my days at the San Francisco Chronicle when he played for the 49ers (and when he was briefly traded to the Ravens).

I had seen the wild swings of his emotions, the intense reticence and withdrawal at times that contrasted with the obvious ploys to get people to look at him and talk about him. I knew some aspects of his upbringing, which to an amateur seemed to explain his neediness and insecurity.

By mid-afternoon, I realized that all of that juicy info was likely irrelevant, because what we thought we knew about this one incident suddenly was wide-open to interpretation.

With him, assumptions were made and benefits of the doubt were discarded in a way that would never happen to any other person, much less player, no matter how controversial. We believed we had a basis for doing that. There's a pretty good chance that we all were wrong.

So how do you interpret an incident involving a person you know everything about, but nothing about? Do you suggest that he needs therapy? Do you suggest that you need therapy?

Maybe you don't try to interpret it at all. Everybody tried yesterday, and see where that got us?

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