Terrell Owens was a force of nature. A maelstrom of offensive destruction that made defensive backs wake up in cold sweats the night before facing him, knowing they had no chance. He was a destroyer of worlds, was the hardest working man in this show business, and an entertaining individual in a game that does everything to quell individuality.
February 4, 2017 the Hall of Fame class for the NFL was announced, and one Terrell Owens was not on the list. I could sit here and try to wax poetic about how T.O. was a great player and that his stats put him in rarefied air, but that would do no good. Belaboring the facts will do nothing but incite bouts of head pounding and palming your face in a violent manner. Terrell Owens deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Terrell Owens should have been a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame. There’s no argument that can be made to the contrary, that doesn’t involve some older white guy going into fits, face red as overpriced Trader Joe’s tomatoes, as he talks about T.O. being a coach killer and locker-room distraction. However, in a league that so vocally demonizes crimes from domestic violence to drug use, one would think that someone whose biggest offense was that he always didn’t play nice with coaches & teammates, might be celebrated. Not the case for Owens.
The Hall of Fame is an individual honor, based around on-field performance. It is not the Hall of Great Teammates or even the Hall of Media Savvy Player. In a sport that preaches the edict of meritocracy, the Hall of Fame is supposed to be the gold-standard, the pinnacle of player achievement. Voted on by sports writers, who cling like static to the idea of journalistic integrity and objectivity, one cannot help but question if personal animus played into the HOF result. By no stretch of imagination was Owens a great teammate, he at times said the wrong thing including dragging coaches and quarterbacks under the bus. Nor was he easy to work with, demanding the ball and drawing untoward attention to himself (though we have to admit, striking a pose in the middle of the Cowboys star was an all time great moment, I thought you all said you love being entertained?). All true, all not reason enough to keep someone out of the Hall. Let us close our eyes for a second, imagine a player who yells at his teammates, shows out in the face of opponents, and has views that are divisive in the locker room. Now open your eyes, standing before you is Tom Brady. And no one would question about keeping the Make America Great Again poster boy out of the Hall of Fame on the first go-round because of this.
It’s problematic to say the least, that a group consisting of mostly white men has the power of essentially punishing Terrell Owens for bad behavior. A condescending paternalistic spanking for acting out of turn, and not falling into line to what they deem to be proper etiquette. Shout-out to Bill Polian, former general manager of the Colts, who told us that the Hall of Fame is not for those who disrupted their teams and made them worse, while ignoring his owner has been hemmed up multiple times for substance abuse. (Never mind of course that Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia’s best years statistically were with Terrell Owens, but why let facts get in the way of a piss poor argument). Notwithstanding, these same voters let Brett Favre in the year before, because sexual harassment falls under the banner of being a good teammate. Rather than hide behind fallacious straw man arguments, it would be far more honest to just come out and say you don’t like the guy. This is hypocrisy at the most benign, and prejudice at the most sinister.
One day, Terrell Owens will be in the Hall of Fame. At his ceremony, I hope he tells jokes and at some point comes to tears, so we can get the full range of the T.O. experience. An emotional, effervescent roller coaster who wowed us with his talent and gave us memorable on-field performances that will stick with us for eternity. In that moment, it probably will not matter that he had to wait multiple years, and get passed over by inferior players to get into the Hall of Fame. His bust will be there forever, gleaming as he always did as a star among stars. I for one can’t wait, and I already went ahead and got my popcorn ready.
Jotham Kabuye can be followed and trolled at @jothamkitara