What Terrell Owens Can Teach Us

I'm not sure why I'm compelled to write about this, but I am. I think it's because past experiences in my life have showed some exact parallels with the kind of fake apology that he offered on TV the other day. And far too many people, at least far too many people I've known, can't distinguish between a real apology and a fake one. Owens' apology is obviously a fake one, and not just because of his past track record of behavior. Here's how you know it's fake: his words and his actions don't match up. While he says that he's sorry and he understands that he was out of line, he's still trying to get the punishment for those actions overturned with a grievance.

When someone is genuinely sorry, if they genuinely believe they've done something wrong and feel remorse over it, that also requires them to accept the consequences of their actions. I had a very dear friend a few years ago who had another friend do something really awful to her. It was really vile behavior. She told me and another friend about it and we subsequently attacked the person who did it, told him that he was completely out of line, his behavior was totally unacceptable under any circumstances, and that it showed what kind of person he really was. At the same time, he was telling her how sorry he was for what he did. And here's an easy and accurate way to see whether he meant it or not.

What was his response to the judgement of her other friends for what he had done? He told us it was none of our business and that we were out of line for attacking him. I would suggest that this proves that his apologies to her were fake. Someone who is truly sorry - and I've been there before, I've wronged people and experienced true remorse and behaved accordingly - would have said, "You're right. I'm not going to defend myself because you're right, what I did was terrible. And if I'm very lucky and she shows me more understanding than I probably deserve, she'll forgive me. But if she doesn't, I have no one to blame but myself. And I can only hope that over time I can demonstrate to her and to you that I regret what I did and have learned from it and changed." That would be consistent with real contrition.

Now look at what Owens and his agent did yesterday in their press conference. Owens read a prepared speech that contained words of apology. His agent then took the microphone and proceeded to claim that the punishment for Owens' behavior - the consequences of his actions - was unfair. He said that others had done worse things than Terrell had done. And they are pursuing a grievance that would not only soften the punishment, but force the people he wronged to take him back on the team and pay him millions of dollars. That is a fake apology. His actions conflict with the empty words he speaks.

Here's how he could have demonstrated genuine remorse. He could have said:

"I have behaved terribly toward my teammates, my employers and the fans of Philadelphia. I apologize to all of them, and though I can't blame them if they refuse, I ask them to give me the chance to prove through my actions that I have changed. Because I know what I did was wrong, I will accept the punishment they've given me. I will not challenge the 4 game suspension the team has levied against me, I will serve out the suspension and give up a million dollars worth of salary while I am suspended. During that time, I will try and meet privately with each and every one of my teammates and all of the people in the Eagles organization to express my regret and remorse face to face. Given my past behavior, I can't blame them if they don't think I'm worth giving another chance to, but I'm going to try because that is the honorable thing to do. If they choose to give me that chance, I will do everything I can to make sure they never feel the regret I feel over my own actions. And if they don't, I accept that it is my fault, not theirs. I will move on with my life, hopefully to another team, and show by my actions there that I am a changed man. Regardless of where I may play from now on, you have my word that from now on my actions will speak and not my words."

I think that would have been a lot more effective and would have shown genuine remorse. But he didn't say that. He offered nothing but empty words, and frankly I don't think any team should give him a chance to play until he shows some substance behind those words. But the fact that he doesn't tells us all we need to know about what kind of person he is, and what kind of person his agent is as well. So let them both rot, in my view. "Actions speak louder than words" is not just a cliche, it actually means something. And the more people use that as a standard by which to judge the character of the people in their lives, the less likely they are to be taken advantage of or hurt by those people.


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I don't think this is fair Ed. You can be sorry and still have an unfair punishment. Didn't that guy you wrote about who had sex with a 14 year old boy suffer an unfair punishment? If he's sorry, is it not genuine because he didn't sit back and accept whatever punishment was handed to him? I think you can be sorry and still fight unfair punishments, though i don't think that is the case in this particular circumstance.


It's certainly true that one can accept responsibility for something and still think a particular punishment is unfair, that's not what is going on here. Terrell and his agent are in fact trying to get the punishment erased entirely. His agent said at the press conference that they want the Eagles to reinstate him so he can play this weekend against the Cowboys. That means no punishment at all. Given the track record of his behavior, no sane person could argue that he shouldn't be punished at all, least of all him.

Just out of interest, what exactly has Owens done?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 09 Nov 2005 #permalink

I saw part of Owen's and his agent's press conference. I don't have the slightest idea who either of them is, or what Owen's infraction was.

The non-apology "apology" by celebrities has become something of state of art. I first heard it from Dr Laura (remember her?) who "apologized," not for what she said on air. She essentially apologized for saying things that, if the listener heard them, that he believed offended him. In other words, she was putting the onus back on the listener.

Ginger, Owens basically dissed his own teammate, Donovan McNabb. That's something that completely disrupts team cohesiveness and brings everyone down. One thing in sports you never do is publicly put down a teammate. If you have a problem with them you keep it private.

Personally, I'm an Eagles fan and I think they should just drop him ASAP for the good of the team. It's a real shame too because he's so talented and could have been considered one of the greatest receivers ever! Now he's just a putz.

When you say "diss", how bad do you mean? Football (soccer) players here have mild digs at each other all the time, and sometimes more than mild. Manchester United's Roy Keane recently slagged off several of his teammates, and he's captain.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 10 Nov 2005 #permalink

Well, in an interview with Michael Irving (former wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys) he was asked if the team would be better with Brett Favre (a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers) and he told Irving that they would be undefeated with him. That was the start of the interview but from what I heard he went a little more "indepth" afterward (of which I missed that part). A couple of days later TO got into a fight with a former Eagle defensive end in the lockerroom. That was basically the last straw which led to his suspension.

Terrell Owens has been causing trouble for the Eagles ever since they picked him up. The Philadelphia organization is just basically getting tired of all the antics and Coach Any Reid is showing they're not afraid to throw out punishment, no matter how good a player is. What really sucks is that McNabb and Owens are one of the best two man tandems I've seen in a long time given the athletic ability of each to make plays. Let's hope the other Eagle receivers will step up!

When you say "diss", how bad do you mean?

The Eagles have essentially fired Owens not for one specific incident, but for a pattern of behavior over the last year. It started after the Superbowl, when he basically accused the quarterback of being weak and too tired to play up to the necessary level. It continued through yelling at the quarterback on the sidelines of games, shouting at the offensive coordinator, saying in an interview that the coach and organization had "no class" for failing to light fireworks celebrating TO's 100th touchdown reception, on and on and on.

The final straw was when he got into a fight (after getting up naked out of the hot tub and putting on just his sneakers) with a teammate in the training room. The team held a players-only meeting, and he refused to go. After that I don't think there was a lot of choice.

With TO it was always about TO. Not the team, not his teammates, not the fans, just TO. That kind of a guy is a cancer in the locker room. He representes the polar opposite of the "team" concept.

Peter King (a great writer at Sports Illustrated) said that the coach, Andy Reid, brought TO in because Andy honestly, sincerely believes that his job is to help his players become better people. That he, Andy, can make a positive difference in their lives. He thought he could help TO understand what it means to put others ahead of himself, to be a part of a team, to care about something besides his own aggrandizement. TO essentially spit in his face, over and over and over.

I like Ed's original post because I think all too often we let famous people off the hook by somehow exempting them from the same standards we'd apply to our own friends or family. Just because Owens can catch a football doesn't allow him to treat other people like dirt. If you give someone chance after chance after chance and they laugh at you, at some point you've got to just say "enough".

I think (warning: wild-assed speculation upcoming) that part of the reason this story has gotten the play it has outside of the usual sports media is that people see in TO the person we've all known who just abuses the hell out of other people around them. It's good to see a jerk who stands in for all the jerks we have in our regular lives, finally get his comeuppance.

I shall now retire my psychologist's chair and get ready for my poker game. I plan on spiking the deck, racing to the middle of the felt, and dancing like TO did on the Dallas star.

In TO's case, it seems to be a constant stream of attacks both againsts team management and his quarterback. Several times for example he publically impugned McNabbs toughness, stamina and unwillingness to play if injured. This to an athlete is like questioning his manhood. The latest incident involves the interview where he suggested the team would be better off with Brett Favre at the quarterback position as he at least has shown the willingness to play hurt.

He's certainly not the only petulant receiver out there in the NFL (think Randy Moss, Ricky Williams), nor is he the only one with more loose screws than Ace Hardware, but sometimes enough is enough.

I am put in mind of Janet Reno taking 'full responsibility' for the debacle at Ruby Ridge. And at Waco. By 'full responsibility' she meant; "I make apology-sounding noises but no one will lose their jobs including me, no one will be prosecuted (say, for shooting with a sniper rifle a woman standing in a doorway holding her baby), and I am a total hypocrite."

Just once I'd like to hear a public figure say; "I meant to do it, I know it was wrong, but screw you all." At least that would be honest.

I am put in mind of Janet Reno taking 'full responsibility' for the debacle at Ruby Ridge.

That would have been a little above and beyond the call, considering that she wasn't Attorney General when that went down.

By Phillip J. Bir… (not verified) on 10 Nov 2005 #permalink

I'm sure DOF meant Waco, but even then the ATF agents were killed on February 28th and Ms. Reno was sworn in as Attorney General on March 12th. Considering how subsequent confrontations with various free-spirited weapons collectors turned out, it would appear that Ms. Reno changed the Bush I legacy in contrition.

Fair enough. Assaulting a team-mate is well over the line, and the pattern of behaviour is clearly disruptive.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 10 Nov 2005 #permalink

Reading DOF's post again, I retract the slack I gave him. He clearly meant Ruby Ridge, which took place six weeks before Bill Clinton was elected.

A nice rant on the Clinton/Reno/Ruby Ridge meme may be found here. It was so effectively spread that it wound up in an article in the "liberal" Washington Post.

August 21 and 22, 1992 - Ruby Ridge Incident
November 3, 1992 - Clinton beats George Bush the First to become 42nd US President

If any of the "common" persons, employed in their jobs, from university professors to WalMart janitors, were to verbally and then physically challenge another employee, indeed a representative supervisor in this case, then proceed to go on to challenge and demand a physical altercation with all the other employees, following a series of insulting slurs and remarks about the company, the owners, the management, the other employees-- they would be immediately fired, and regardless of the apologies, would receive unsatisfactory performance recommendations. Why do we treat the celebrities with so much defference and shoulder shrugging? Ed's point, that an honest and real apology comes regardless of consequences is important, especially in human relations.

One thing that is often overlooked is that these people aren't the only ones who could play in their games in at least a workman-like manner. I'm sure that the Owens team (whatever it is) would easily be able to replace him with a reasonably qualified substitute.