By David J. Cohen
Yesterday Cowboys WR Terrell Owens attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on prescription pain killers. According to sources, 35 of the 40 pills remaining in the prescription were still remaining before yesterday. The medication was intended to help Owens deal with his recent injury, a broken bone involving his right ring finger.This action by Terrell Owens follows a familiar path from a previous flamboyant personality, “Prime Time” Deion Sanders. Deion Sanders grew up in a tough neighborhood and found sports as an outlet and an escape. While at Florida State, he became one of the best corners in college, but he realized while at FSU that he needed to find a way to become visible. Deion needed to market himself in a way that would make him a well-known figure. His solution was to create an alternate persona, “Prime Time”. This alternate ego was brash, flashy, and disrespectful, but created a lot of buzz. That buzz enabled Sanders to be drafted 5th in the 1989 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. As he evolved as one of the league’s best playmakers, the persona “Prime Time” continued to mushroom. The ego became more brash, wild, and arrogant until Deion could no longer separate his true person from his alter ego. “Prime Time” swallowed Deion Sanders and consumed his day-to-day life, both on and off the field. Eventually, this led Deion, who fell into a pit of depression of what he had become as a person, to attempt suicide by driving off a cliff. The attempt failed, and as a result, Deion was a changed man. He revived himself through religion. It took this kind of trauma for Deion to regain his true self and truly separate life off the field from “Prime Time” on it. Now Deion Sanders lives a healthy, fruitful life.
The story of Terrell Owens has many parallels to what happened to Deion. Owens was also raised in a very hostile neighborhood. Owens also found sports to be an escape from a young age. Owens also faced the problem of being recognized. He went to college at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, a very small school in the scope of making it to the NFL. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1996 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Owens would get to play beside his childhood idol WR Jerry Rice and catch passes from QB Steve Young. Owens emerged as one of the league’s most promising young receivers early in his career when he replaced Jerry Rice in the 1997 season after Rice tore his ACL. The next year, Owens made more headlines when he made a miraculous catch in a classic playoff game between the 49ers and the Packers, in what was the last playoff victory for Steve Young. The play has been called by some “The Catch 2”.
Yet Terrell Owens was not receiving the huge recognition one would expect an NFL receiver to get after such a start to a career. In reality, Owens was buried in the shadows of Young and Rice. Young retired after the 1999 season, which further put the spotlight on Jerry Rice. Owens was tired of being the backdrop, feeling he was an elite player in this league, just as Deion felt he was one of the best players in college football. Like Deion, Owens needed to find a way to bring buzz toward him. The spectacle known as T.O. was born. Now T.O. was being flamboyant, celebrating on the Dallas Star. He started feuding with his QB Jeff Garcia, and his coach Steve Mariucci. He was simply arrogant and disrespectful. But everyone knew everything he did on the field. Late in the 2000 season, Owens caught 20 balls for 283 yards, one of the best single game performances in NFL history. The playing success coinciding with the T.O. persona was what it took to finally put Owens in the mainstream media consistently throughout the season. Like “Prime Time”, T.O. just continued to mushroom. His success as a player became overshadowed by his antics. In 2004, the 49ers traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. T.O. only consumed Owens ever more. Despite having a dominant season, he constantly feuded with QB Donovan McNabb and to a lesser extent his coach Andy Reid. He constantly offended teammates and tried to one-up anyone and everyone on the field. It is almost as if T.O. had to continue to be more arrogant, more egotistical, and more disruptive to feed the frenzy the persona had created in the media, which is similar to what happened to “Prime Time”. Many believe “Prime Time” reached its worst when Deion poured ice several times after a playoff game on announcer Tim McCarver after adversarial comments made by McCarver regarding Sanders. T.O. continued to fuel the fire, and it became the life of Terrell Owens. Owens was suspended from the team. Owens was conducting interviews while working out in his driveway. There was no more separation between Terrell Owens the person and T.O. the player. Terrell Owens the person had become T.O. the circus show. This even grew to the extent that it seemed to rub off on his agent Drew Rosenhaus during the infamous press conference after the suspension that turned into a joke, summarized by Rosenhaus constantly deflecting questions by emphatically saying “Next Question”.
Then Owens went to the Dallas Cowboys before this season. The transition has been anything but smooth. Owens suffered a hamstring injury and refused help from team doctors, insisting on having his own personal staff help treat the injury. He rode the stationary bike, even wearing a Discovery jersey to create attention to himself. Terrell Owens, the person, was completely buried underneath T.O. the selfish, egotistical maniac. In his own book, Terrell Owens describes feelings of shame about his self-image. Sanders, in the documentary Beyond the Glory stated the same feelings about how he felt about what he had become as a man. The constant setbacks involving injury in Dallas along with mounting feelings of depression triggered Terrell Owens the person to attempt suicide as a way to finally escape the monster he had afflicted upon himself in the alter ego T.O. Just as “Prime Time” drew Sanders to attempt suicide, T.O. the persona drove Terrell Owens the person to suicide to separate himself from his creation.
Now that the attempt has gone through and failed, the question is whether the Terrell Owens trilogy will have a similar outcome to the current life of Deion Sanders. Deion overcame “Prime Time” and has lived a relatively happy life off the field since his attempted suicide. I hope this incident helps Terrell Owens do the same and regain his personality off the field. If he is successful Owens would still be a flamboyant figure on the field in his celebrations, but he could finally be at peace with himself off the field and live a life separate from T.O. the player. If he is successful Owens would likely stop feuding with teammates and coaches since he would be happy within. A lot of times people lash out at their insecurity with themselves through confrontation with others.
Hopefully after this traumatic experience, Owens has a personal revival. Just like Deion.