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Let T.O. heal

The best medicine for Owens is time and space

Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 3:30PM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 5:03PM
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Terrell Owens' background helps explain his extreme sensitivity throughout his NFL career.
Terrell Owens' background helps explain his extreme sensitivity throughout his NFL career.
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This much we know: Terrell Owens was rushed to a Dallas hospital Tuesday night after a reported suicide attempt. Whether he tried to overdose on pain medication depends on whom you believe -- the police report or T.O. and his handlers. But no matter what went down, it's important to remember that our emotional responses to this incident are extremely trivial right now.

If T.O., who denied all reports, really did try to harm himself by overdosing on pain medication -- and either the Dallas police is guilty of a colossal blunder, which seems far-fetched, or Owens' publicist, Kim Etheredge, is flat-out lying -- then I don't care whether it was a desperate plea for attention or a reaction to the pressures of his high-profile existence. Nor am I concerned with the effect it might have on his football career or how the Cowboys will adapt to his absence.

I just want the man to start healing, preferably in the privacy of a mental health professional's office, and forget about football and celebrity for a little while.

Irrational, negative and hopeless thoughts are the core symptoms of clinical depression. The factors that lead someone to attempt suicide have less to do with logic than with biochemistry. There is no story that can be broken that tells us why Owens might have taken those pills, no all-encompassing revelation that tidily accounts for his actions.

It is presumptuous for anyone who does not know the intimate details of Owens' personal circumstances and mental state to make assumptions regarding why he did what he did.

So, knowing all of that, let's all back off and give the man some space.

I've known Owens since 1996, when he arrived at the 49ers' facility as a third-round draft choice out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He was quiet, relentlessly polite and reasonably shy, and when he emerged as an unlikely playmaker in the second half of his rookie season, he seemed utterly humbled by his success.

By the next season, however, it was clear that Owens had a darker, more conflicted side. He was moody, even moodier than Niners star Jerry Rice, which was saying something. Owens could hug you one day after baring his soul in an interview and ignore you the next. Scarier still, his moods didn't seem to correlate with obvious empirical realities. In other words, Owens could catch eight passes for 150 yards in a 28-10 victory and be despondent, or he might be strangely giddy when things with the team weren't going nearly as well.

Eventually, his obvious need for attention and erratic demeanor wore on teammates, and thus began a destructive cycle in which on-field excellence was sullied by his divisive words and actions. And the more we learned about Owens, the more we came to realize that his internal wounds were deep and long-standing.