Football made him, football taketh away

Apologies if I'm parroting anyone else's knee-jerk reactions, but I really can't stomach seeing what the blogosphere and its citizens have to say about the T.O. incident.

Let's start by dispensing with the obvious. Every year, plenty of professional athletes deal with the pressure of the business without trying to off themselves. Without question, Owens is not right in the head. Suicide is a terrible thing, even if it's most often an indication of a need for (further) attention. And really, any attempt to inject confusion into the situation is pure spin; swallowing thirty-five tylenols all at once can kill you, so anything prescription is most definitely a nod in the direction of self-destruction.

But to echo Brickowski's feelings on shoefly's earth-bending comment, this all seems a little too eerie. Terrell Owens isn't just a "difficult" player, a man who never quite put down his childhood demons, or the victim of one of the sports media's most peristent hatchet jobs ever. He was football's public enemy #1, an absolute colossus of an player whose actions and words just always seemed to run counter to NFL culture. At some point, you have to ask yourself whether Owens wasn't being made into a monster by a series of distortive expectations and demands, whether the fault was with the NFL beholder that interpreted him the way it did. What's more, the joke he had become to most football fans tells us plenty about the prevailing national mood, and its effect on our country's dominant sport. It's depressing that he felt he had no other choice; it's even more demoralizing to consider how this will be received, and how little it will change about his standing among fans and the media.

It would be to facile to claim that the NFL almost killed Terrell Owens, but I will say this: right now, the NFL, its business, followers, mores, culture, and goals of utter domination are the closest America gets to a soccer-style sports army. And in typical USA fashion, we don't just put our stamp on a universal langugage; we've built our own fortress, armed our troops to the teeth, and pushed forward through a policy of utter intolerance and ignorance. I can't really defend Owens's past behavior; nor can I explain why Bonds hasn't done the without making drastic pronouncements about T.O.'s mental health. But if ever I needed a reason to abandon the NFL, this and Monday's sin of omission have convinced me that it's at odds with most of what I value in this world ethically and politically.

I can't say that this will keep me from checking in on Chris Henry now and then, marveling at LT's artistry, or even caring about the state of my fantasy teams. What these two days have made me sure of, however, is that I'll never be able to buy wholesale into the frisson that is playoff football, the Ring Lardner-like magic of each and every Sunday, or the false tidiness of the NFL Films-style tale-telling. Owens is just the latest, most grotesquely metaphoric, of the figures who reveal football's sordid underbelly: Lawrence Taylor, Rae Carruth, everyone on the Ravens. . . this sport has serious issues, most of which stem from its cycle of repression, explosion, and damage control. In the end, buying into its mythology is like staking one's heart and soul on Douglas Sirk picture where all the male leads are homosexuals; maybe it's better entertainment, but I'd prefer to stick with sports where I know I'm not watching the wheels of hegemony on the prowl.

LATE DAY REVISION: Part of me has no idea what to make of this incident anymore, but the louder faction says this: Owens is obviously fucked in the head, likely governed by patterns and moods that the average sane person can't fathom, and is too football to admit anything of this nature to the media. Who knows if the truth will ever emerge; for the purposes of this post, though, it doesn't really matter. The basic sentiment holds true and the line of reasoning intact, even if this is no longer the unclouded tragedy it seemed like this morning. Fight on that lie.


At 9/27/2006 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

T.O. likes men.

At 9/28/2006 8:56 AM, Blogger Vegan Viking said...

Not only does the NFL not own the sport of football, the dominant party line of pro football does not own the NFL or the fans. What the NFL stands for
“ethically or politically” doesn’t have to have anything to do with whether one loves the sport, teams, or players. Check out my name: do you think I love it that the NFL features a lot of pro-military propaganda surrounding its games? I have two friends that love football as much as I do: one is a
vegetarian pacifist and the other is a liberal pacifist seminarian. So far, neither of them has expressed to me a desire to abandon watching the NFL because they don’t like what it stands for “ethically and politically” (there are all sorts of things that we choose not to abandon even when they stand for things we don’t agree with in entirety).

I think it’s also an error to assume that no individuality and no divergence from the norm is acceptable in the NFL. The NFL has a long love affair with its rascally, flamboyant, hard-living bad boys. Max McGee. Deion Sanders. The Raider teams of the 1970s. And let’s not forget, despite what you consider a hatchet job, T.O. has gotten more attention, positive and negative, than any single player in the past three years (to the point that it took me a half-hour to get sick of the suicide
story—I’m just tired of hearing about the guy). Furthermore, I hope you don't think the criticism of T.O. is about repressing individuality and free expression. In an attempt to assert selfhood, T.O. has constantly attempted to insult and disrespect all sorts of other people (Garcia, McNabb, Childress).

If you’re interested, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has won an award for his work with “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and
Gays,” started an in-house chapter of “Ban Handguns America” when he worked in the Pentagon, left the Pentagon in part because he didn’t want to work for Nixon, and has made some intriguing comments about things like labor rights and free expression. The long-time head of the NFL seems to be out of step
with the dominant politics/ethics of the NFL. Does that fit what you would consider the dominant ethics/politics of the NFL? Were Tags’ politics/ethics a hindrance to his work on a league
which, I admit, has issues of conformity? There’s clearly room within the league for individual attitudes.

Furthermore, if your narrative is "The NBA allows individuality and free expression while the NFL stifles these things in favor of conformity and team play," then isn't your narrative a bit limited? Does the NBA constantly fine Mark Cuban becaues they are pleased as punch about individuality and free expression?

A lot of things to rip apart in my response, no doubt, which is more of a rant than a unified position.

At 9/28/2006 12:36 PM, Anonymous seezmeezy said...

owens' childhood has been well documented. so has his inherent shyness/sensitivity. toss in the bipolar racism of america and you've got the ingredients for an insanity cocktail.

but i don't even think owens is insane. in fact, i honestly believe that most sane people DO understand his shtick but they feign confusion to mask their own fear: owens, like pretty much everyone else with a pulse, simply reacts to his environments and does everything in his power to control them. some people are just better at being in control or somehow lucked into a position to do so; it's pretty scary to admit you are not one of those people and easier to scoff at someone who is.

i think owens' behavior can be boiled down to this: he used to be a peon in a world of tension, now he is in a position to sit on that kingdom's throne.

***none of this is to agree with or defend owens. it is also not a pardon to anyone who uses cartman-esque manipulation to create and foster tense environments. i believe that people who are so irresponsible as to passively seek help by spreading misery should first be reprimanded, then helped. however, i feel like the only way to truly help them is by starting with a clear understanding of their problem. i honestly feel like it's a problem we all deal with, just on scales that vary enough so confusion can be a substitute for denial.***

At 10/01/2006 2:10 PM, Blogger procumbo said...

What strikes me as strangest is the almost universal media reaction of personal affront and annoyance, rather than concern or pity, as though he OWES them something. If only he could edify us with his incredible athletic talent without these vulgar and unprovoked displays of personal problems...

At 10/10/2006 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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