By Ryan McGowan
My writing colleague here at SportsColumn, "geeefunk7," wrote today in a piece about Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens: "The fans in Philadelphia do not care if Terrell Owens calls out former teammates on their sexual orientation. They do not care whether the accent goes on the beginning of his name or the end. They do not care if he openly despises the mandatory team rule, requiring all players to wear shorts over their tights during training camp. They do not even care about his history of touchdown celebrations, and his sure intentions on creating some new ones for this upcoming season." Certainly, the Philly faithful have every right to overlook some of the baggage that T.O. brings to the table, and instead take the very Dan Duquette-esque philosophy that a player’s performance on the field is all that matters. They certainly have every right to embrace Owens’ considerable talent, his top-notch football skills, and his acceptance of his anointed role as the savior of the Eagles from their three straight NFC Championship game heartbreaks. But for Philly fans in particular and NFL fans in general, if they are human beings with any sense of compassion or conscience, they should certainly take umbrage to Owens’ ignorant, savage, unfounded innuendoes regarding former teammate Jeff Garcia’s sexual preferences.
To be fair, Owens’ comments were not an unsolicited rant, but rather they were made in context. During an interview with Playboy Magazine (which is probably NEVER a good idea for an athlete to do, since Playboy is in the business of being more and more outrageous and scandalous than ever, in order to compete with such quasi-porn as Maxim, Stuff, and FHM), Owens was asked straight-out (no pun intended) by a clearly forward-thinking, open-minded Playboy staff member whether former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia was gay. Owens responded in his typically juvenile, Monty Python-esque manner, "Like my boy tells me: `If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat."
First of all, the tone of both the question and the response is disturbing. Regardless of your personal moral views on the behaviors of the individuals involved, it is as unjustifiable to inflict bias or discrimination on gays as it is to any group that distinguishes itself by religion or skin color. For a society that should be moving towards more tolerance of homosexuals, to hear such blatantly boorish joking is shameful. And for any readers who might accuse me of being too sensitive or not having a sense of humor about the whole thing, my question is, what is funny about it? What was funny, Terrell, about making snide insinuations about the sexual preferences of a man who was at the very least partially responsible for Owens’ emergence as a star wide receiver in the league? If that’s his idea of humor, he needs to go back to elementary school.
Owens’ comments are sad; they carry the considerable weight of the implied alpha-male locker-room ignorance that being gay is an affliction somewhere between Lou Gehrig`s Disease and the Ebola virus on the scale of desirability. Even if Garcia were gay (which he denies, stating that he currently has a girlfriend and has had girlfriends in the past), what would it matter? The implication in both the question from the Playboy pseudo-journalist and the response from the Eagles’ pseudo-human is that Garcia’s alleged homosexuality somehow diminishes his numerous accomplishments on the football field, not the least of which was getting Owens the damn ball to the tune of 592 receptions, 8,572 yards, and 81 touchdowns over his career. Granted, Garcia was not the quarterback for all of those passes, but he was in the pocket for the majority of them. Owens implies that Garcia being gay puts an asterisk, if not an ugly stain, on his entire career, as if he were somehow less of a "real" football player because of whatever natural force or conscious adult choice made him prefer sharing his bed with male groupies rather than female ones.
I tried to understand Owens when he performed his celebrated impromptu cheering routing with the pom-poms. I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he pulled that Sharpie out of his sock on Sunday Night Football. I even attempted to defend him when he held out from the Ravens this offseason, somehow feeling sympathy for him because his agent screwed up his free agent paperwork. But to make such a spiteful comment in a national publication for purely self-serving reasons is unforgivable to me. The entire exchange between Owens and the hack from Playboy comes off sounding like a meathead 4th grade bully, huddling his adoring sycophants together at the lunch table and laughing collectively when the bully announces that a socially awkward, less athletic, less popular boy in their class was "gay." Let’s all laugh at the gay kid, everybody. Even though most 9-year-olds don’t understand the adult complexities of homosexuality and the complicated social, political, and ethical issues involved, they still laugh because of the pressure to accept that being gay is bad; they are led to believe that no "real" man could ever be gay. That is a pitiable worldview to have in fourth grade, but it is a wretched, pathetic state of mind for a grown man to hold as truth.
As a former football player, coach, and long-time devoted fan of the sport, I am the first person to defend the game and its participants against the uninformed killjoys who believe that anyone associated with football can be nothing more than just a hollow-brained oafish clod who masochistically enjoys bashing in his own head. I am the first one to defend the sport as being about more than just violence, carnage, and drawing blood. But players like Terrell Owens, and Jeremy Shockey before him, make that job so much harder. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect football players to be forward-thinking bastions of tolerance and equality. They have themselves, their well-being, their very jobs to worry about, and shouldn’t be expected to be the defining role models of society.
However, they should be expected to exercise some sane judgment. It is despicable for Shockey and Owens to come out (again, no pun intended) in prominent national media and make mocking, fourth-grade level jokes about a former teammate being gay, or threatening to beat up a teammate if he found out he was gay, and then have a good yuk-yuk with the interviewer, who is of course loving the fact that he was able to acquire the idiotic quotes that will sell a lot of copies of the magazine. It is an insult to me and to the millions of rational-thinking football fans who hate to see the game we love turned into such pathetic showmanship and fodder for sports-hating national media outlets to deride and mock.
I hope that geeefunk7 is right; I hope that Eagles Fan can look beyond Owens’ sad comments and his other ancillary behavior, and respect the man for his performance between the lines on the field. (Hey, I have to cheer for Corey Dillon this year, an exceptional running back who beat up his wife or girlfriend as a younger man.) Good luck to the Philly faithful, but personally, I am thankful that I don’t have to cheer for this fool this season.
I feel bad for Jeff Garcia, who played so hard in San Francisco for many years and has had to listen to this clown Owens derail him for whatever personal vendetta he has against him. (Kudos to Garcia, by the way, for commenting that it is a waste of his time to answer such ridiculous, childish accusations.) I feel bad for any closeted homosexual players that are in the NFL or even in lower levels of the sport, for one more blockade to the acceptance that gay players do in fact exist in football, despite what many ultra-conservative blowhards would rather believe.
But most of all, I feel bad for Terrell Owens. He might have money, he might have fame, he might be a world-class athlete, but he comes off appearing like a dreadful human being. Perhaps his comments should be interpreted as "loose conversation", and not taken too seriously by the sensitive types such as myself. Maybe I just wasted over 1,400 words and a couple of hours of my life thinking about this idiot. It doesn’t matter, though; nothing I nor anyone else can say or write could change this man’s thinking. Good luck to you this season, Terrell, but don’t expect me to ever root for you.