28 Sep 2006
In this week's NFL Rundown on FOXSports.com, you'll notice a big, smoking crater where the Cowboys-Titans preview was supposed to be.
I write NFL Rundown on Monday and Tuesday evenings, then send it in to my editors by early Wednesday morning. If there's a late injury update, the editors insert a change on Wednesday before Rundown goes live. If a prominent player allegedly attempts suicide, we go into "stop the presses" mode, which is tricky because I have a day job.
The original NFL Rundown Cowboys-Titans preview included three paragraphs of jokes about Terrell Owens' ability to manufacture news, including a quote from Titans CB Pacman Jones complaining that he can't watch SportsCenter anymore because the Titans are never on. By Wednesday morning, it appeared that jokes about Owens' camera-hogging ways would be in horrible taste. I spent my lunch hour revising the preview, putting a default "details are sketchy" report in its place, and adjusting some comments in other parts of the Rundown (like the Eagles preview) so that they didn't refer specifically to Owens.
By Wednesday night, the "attempted suicide" story became a "media circus" story. Everything I had written about Owens the spotlight hound suddenly appeared to be true again. I flirted with the idea of a second revision of Rundown, but decided against it. It's still too early to know all the facts, and Rundown often runs for two or three days. My "details are sketchy" cop-out keeps me out of trouble, and this week's Rundown is focused on the Seahawks and Bears, so the omission is not that big a deal.
But I still face a dilemma. Next week, I have to lead with Cowboys-Eagles. I can't skirt the Owens issue then. I like to lead off Rundown with jokes. And I don't know what's funny anymore.
Back in August, I wrote the jokes that I planned to use for this week's Rundown intro. Let's face it: as soon as the schedules were released, we all knew that Eagles-Cowboys would be the Game of the Week, and as an Eagles fan I had no problem whipping up some pot-shots at Owens and saving them in a Word document for October use. But now I am not sure I want to run them. Sure, Owens denied the suicide attempt. He claims that it's "absurd" to think he's mentally ill. But if there really is some fire to this smoky story, then I shouldn't try to heap ha-has onto a serious situation. Even if Wednesday's newsgasm was just Terrell's Tempest in a Teapot, it still touched on issues like drug reactions, depression, and suicide, topics that shouldn't be addressed in a snarky NFL preview.
(Oh, and you will notice that this individual is named "T.O." when he is doing sit-ups in his driveway but "Owens" when he is the subject of serious news. It's an old journalism thing: Mayor Jones gets indicted or signs a controversial bill, but Hizzonor cuts the ribbon at a new strip mall. I still haven't decided yet whether Owens or T.O. in this case.)
You see the minefield I'm treading. I'm not alone. I flipped between two Philly morning radio shows this morning. On the modern rock station, the DJs were whooping it up with callers at Owens' expense. On the normally loopy sports-talk show, Angelo Cataldi was more reserved, mixing some gentle jokes and observations with "what if he's really sick" speculation. The modern rock guys were funnier, but their job is to be funny. Mine is to be funny and informative. I have an obligation to be a little more responsible.
Rich Hoffman's column in the Philadelphia Daily News reminded me that all of us have a tiny part in this debacle. We hate Owens' media saturation, and we contribute to it every time we type his name. "That T.O. brings out the worst in all of us usually goes without saying, but not today," he wrote. He later added, "All we can do is try not to laugh, although that might just have been the day's most stern task." In one day, the Owens saga lurched from tragedy to comedy. What will it look like next week? How much spin and backspin will there be in the days to come?
I have a decision to make by next Tuesday, when I sit down to write the final draft of Rundown. As of right now, here's where I stand: Owens is fair game. I won't be overly nasty. I won't poke fun of emotional problems or serious issues. But the media circus, the over-exposure, the egomania, the blithe indifference to his coach or his teammates, the preternaturally incompetent live-in publicist? They are all joke worthy, as is the inevitable Roman circus that's scheduled to occur five miles from my house next week.
Maybe I'll change my mind two or three times by Tuesday, but for now I am going with my gut. T.O. isn't Alonzo Spellman or Dmitri Underwood or Maurice Clarett. He doesn't get the kid gloves treatment yet. This story is tiring and confusing and just a little disturbing. But it's also funny: funny unusual and funny ha-ha.
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?