Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last night, NFL star/crossover media hype juggernaut Terrell Owens allegedly attempted suicide. Throughout the day, conflicting reports surfaced and the suicide attempt went from breaking news, to a nasty rumor. Owens not only held an afternoon press conference denying the allegations, but also went as far as to practice this morning, hours after being released from Baylor Medical Center.
The question as to whether or not Owens actually attempted to kill himself, via overdosing on prescribed pain medication, or experienced an allergic reaction to the medicine (as he claims) will be the subject of every major sports show for the next week, and even on to mainstream news discussion shows on the cable news networks. In fact, during Owens' press conference this afternoon, CNN cut from live coverage of a high school hostage crisis to go live to Dallas where Owens was making his inevitable "these allegations are ridiculous" speech to throngs of sports/news media.
Though, because of Owens' mega stature, as far as athletes is concerned, this story is extremely relevant, there is another relevant underlying question as these events unfold. If, despite Owens' denial, he is clinically depressed; and even if he did not truly attempt to take his own life, but still has serious psychological issues, what part has the medic's blanketing of Owens' life played in his decline. There is no doubt that dealing with media pressure and living the life of a super athlete takes some getting used to, and is a skill that these men get paid millions to master; but isn't this perhaps a warning sign? And if it is, has the lack of compassion in the coverage of the first several hours since the story broke shown how truly irresponsible the news media can be?
The man obviously plays with a different deck of cards than traditional journalists and critics, and there is no doubt that many of the decisions he's made have been suspect, if not irresponsible and morally corrupt. And I understand that it has now become cliche to criticize to over coverage of Owens' life. But I think the true story here isn't of a Dallas wide receiver perhaps attempting suicide (if a noose was found under Terry Glenn's bed, we'd be watching that story), this is the story of a sick man, ultimately losing his battle with the pressures applied not by his sport, but by the media. With 3 hours of daily discussion on ESPN, hours to fill on ESPNews, half a dozen cable news networks running out of Iraq footage, and literally dozens of radio talk shows from local to national to satellite - Terrell Owens became Deion Sanders, Allen Iverson, and Michael Jordan all rolled into one. And after too much coverage holding a magnifying glass up to everything he does, from his success on the field, his larger than life ego, and his effect on afternoon talk shows, he couldn't take it anymore. And instead of offering a hint of compassion, the news media covered this story not with compassion and sensitivity, but with the same insensitive, arrogant demeanor they would an election.
Maybe Terrell is telling the truth, and he's a fully functional, happy athlete who's mind is as healthy as his on field ego. Maybe his publicist was right when she said that Terrell has "25 million reasons to be happy." But the mere fact that we are even discussing a multi-millionaire's suicide attempt should tell us something. Unfortunately, that's a story too.


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