Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 3:30PM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 5:03PM
In an article I wrote that ran in SI in the fall of 1998, Owens talked about growing up as an outcast in Alexander City, Ala. Owens, the story noted, "got no play from girls and tons of grief from almost everyone. Lighter-skinned peers called him 'Purple Pal' and 'Shine' and picked on him for being skinny. They also picked fights, leaving Owens two choices: get his butt kicked or run. Once an older boy confronted him at a crowded rec center, and when Owens bolted, the boy chased him home. A quarter-mile later, when Owens made it to his front door, it felt like the whole neighborhood was laughing."
Said Owens then: "Everybody wanted to fight me. I was pretty much the most picked-on guy in high school, and I took a lot of beatings. Being dark-skinned wasn't in back then, so I'd hear stuff like, 'I'm glad you don't go to night school, because the teacher would call you absent.'"
Later in the story, there was this quote from Jeremy Freeman, one of Owens' few close friends from home: "He was one of those people who just didn't fit in," Freeman said. "If there was a party, he probably wasn't invited, and if he showed up no one would talk to him."
Freeman also said that if Owens wasn't a virgin during high school, "He was a one-shot chop at best. Girls just didn't like him, and he had nothing to offer. He didn't have an open personality, a car or nice clothes. He'd just stay inside and suffer."
Owens conceded that he "wasn't getting girls until my junior or senior year of high school." As Owens fought his way into the NFL and became the league's most compelling playmaker, his life circumstances improved immensely. But the inner drama continued, and it played out in all of the high-profile forums -- ripping his coaches and quarterbacks in San Francisco and Philadelphia, among other incidents -- with which we are well familiar.
In the past I've defended Owens for actions such as stomping on the star at Texas Stadium when he was with the Niners, and for complaining about his contract after his valiant Super Bowl performance for Philly just weeks after breaking his ankle. I've also ripped him -- for questioning ex-Niners quarterback JeffGarcia's sexuality in an interview with Playboy and for shamelessly punking Donovan McNabb as part of his feud with the Eagles.
Right now, I'm tempted to go after him again, for what I perceive to be a whitewashing of the truth by him and his camp following Tuesday's hospitalization. When I heard Etheredge complain that the Dallas cops were "taking advantage of T.O." and insist that Owens "has 25 million reasons why he should be alive" (which shows a complete lack of understanding about the nature of depression, for starters), I have to confess I wanted someone to empty the contents of my stomach.
In my non-clinical opinion, if Owens did attempt suicide, immediately plowing ahead and jumping headlong back into the NFL fray isn't the best idea. (Owens says he expects to practice Thursday and may play in Sunday's game at Tennessee.)
That said, I'm going to back away from the circus for awhile and hope that Owens, and the people close to him, come to terms with the seriousness of the situation -- that they begin taking the proper steps toward treating whatever ails him and let the mental health professionals drive the process.
If that happens, I hope you will respect that decision and allow him to heal on his own terms. It may not be as entertaining that way, but remember, it's not about us.