After all-pro Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens’ reported suicide attempt Tuesday night, don’t be surprised if we hear of a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (aka manic-depression) in his case. Owens has long been known to be a maniac; indeed, he has gotten much more press over the years for his obsessively attention-seeking acting out than he has for his spectacular receptions and runs after catches. Some lowlights follow; many more have been catalogued by James Alder, and some videos that would embarrass a sensible person may even be seen at Owens’ own official Web site.
There was the time in 2000, in a game in Dallas when Owens played for the San Francisco 49ers, when after scoring a touchdown, he ran to the middle of the field, to dramatically place the football, in order to insult and humiliate the Cowboys’ players and fans (and embarrass his own team). And then he scored again, and repeated his performance.
In 2002, there was the notorious “Sharpie” incident, when Owens tucked a Sharpies pen into his sock, which he whipped out in the end zone upon scoring a touchdown to sign the ball, which he then handed to his financial advisor, who by the way, was “sitting in an end zone luxury suite rented by Shawn Springs, the cornerback he had just beaten on the scoring play.”
In November 2004, ABC used Monday Night Football to plug its steamy Sunday night show, Desperate Housewives, by airing a spot just before the game in which gorgeous blonde Desperate Housewives co-star Nicolette Sheridan, appeared in the Philadelphia Eagles’ locker room, wearing only a towel, and seduced Owens, who was wearing his Philadelphia Eagles uniform. The spot ended with Sheridan doffing her towel and jumping into the arms of Owens, who said that the team would just have to do without him.
After the spot caused outrage among viewers and embarrassed Owens’ team, ABC halfheartedly apologized for it two days later, but the apology, like the stunt, cost it nothing and the network had gotten the buzz it sought.
Notwithstanding Owens’ heroic performance playing on a badly injured ankle and leg in a losing struggle in the 2005 Super Bowl, he has often put his ego before NFL rules, and even before the good of his team of the moment.
In 2001, after Owens' screw-up caused his team, the 49ers, to lose to the Chicago Bears, Owens criticized his coach, Steve Mariucci.
In 2004, Owens sought free agency, but his agent missed the free agency deadline, yet Owens insisted that the rules be waived in his case, and that he be permitted to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indulged him.
As James Alder wrote, “Because they retained his rights, the 49ers then traded him to the Baltimore Ravens, but Owens refused to report to his new team. He expressed his desire to play in Philadelphia, and filed a grievance, claiming he should be granted free agency. After a series of negotiations, a deal was worked out between the three teams which sent Owens to Philadelphia where he signed a seven-year, $49 million deal against the advice of the players’ union.”
Prior to the 2005 season – i.e., after only one season in Philadelphia – Owens demanded that the Eagles renegotiate his contract and increase his $7.5 million salary. During summer camp that year, Owens engaged in bizarre behavior, refusing to speak to teammates or the media. But when he was suspended for one week by head coach Andy Reid, Owens, while purportedly snubbing reporters, did “crunches” in front of his house before an audience of reporters and cameramen.
Halfway through that season, Owens publicly insulted his team’s Pro Bowl/Super Bowl quarterback, Donovan McNabb, saying that the team would have been more successful with Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre. There was a racial subtext to the insult, because Favre is white and McNabb (like Owens) is black, a subtext that McNabb made explicit, when he complained about Owens comparing him unfavorably to a white, as opposed to a black quarterback. (Note too that while McNabb was then in his prime, the once-dominant Favre was over the hill.)
Owens was ordered by Coach Reid to publicly apologize, both to the team and to McNabb. Owens apologized only to the team. Reid responded by again suspending Owens, initially for one week, then for four weeks, which effectively was for the balance of the season, since Reid then announced that Owens would no longer play for the Eagles.
Owens’ history of bizarre, narcissistic, and disruptive behavior also includes throwing numerous tantrums on the sidelines during games, which in the pre-Owens NFL were grounds for permanent benching.
While psychiatry cannot credibly excuse Terrell Owens’ character defects, the reported suicide attempt places his manic behavior in a new light. Thus, the possibility obtains that Owens’ doctors may suggest to him that he try out a regime of lithium, the standard treatment for leveling out bipolar disorder’s violent yins and yangs.
I have a talented but irresponsible cousin whom I’ll call “Geoffrey,” who got committed to psycho wards for nervous breakdowns over forty times in about twenty years (between the time he was roughly 15 and 35). Then he was put on lithium, and managed to remain a free man for a few years. Since I haven’t heard from or about Geoffrey in twenty years, I don’t know if he continued taking his meds – or staying off the weed he so loved – or if they continued helping him, but he was reasonably sane for a while.
Then there was the time during the last summer I spent on Martha’s Vineyard, in 1986, that I saw Geoffrey sitting in an Edgartown saloon called “The Café” (pronounced kayf), over a plate of nachos and melted cheese. I sat down at the table with him, and he looked up at me and asked, “Do I know you?”
This was just nine months after we had spent a day hanging out together in New York and New Jersey. I still don’t know if Geoffrey was spaced out on the lithium or the pot.
If I hear of Terrell Owens getting put on lithium, and then one day, in a state of honest bafflement, looking at his head coach and asking him, “Do I know you?,” I guess I’ll have my answer.