It's been said that you never know everything about a person. There's that person who lives next door who seems to have a perfect life. The perfect family -- a husband and wife who love each other with two kids, one boy and one girl, and a dog. The perfect house that's always cleaner than ours. The perfect job. We all envy that person, but all we're envying is what we see. We don't know about them. He can be abusive. She can be an alcoholic. The kids can have bad learning disabilities. All we know -- all we think we know -- is what we see. And on that, and that alone, we judge them. We may even secretely hate them for how perfect they seem. Then something from their unknown life surfaces and that's when we realize, they're human like the rest of us.
If that's how it is in the real world, in the sports world, it's ten times worse. All the fans see is a couple hours a week of players and then what they see in the news. Fans don't know anything about the person unless the media wants them to. Which begs the question, if T.O. did attempt suicide, did we have something to do with it?
When I say we, I don't mean the fans as much as the media. I'm talking about the media that likes to assume they know what someone is like because of the few hours a week they see them. It used to just be journalists for papers and news reporters. But now it's so much more. Now you don't need a journalism major or years of internships to judge someone. Now you just need a computer, a slight knowledge of sports, and a decent understanding of the English language -- guys like myself. With the new breed of blogging and sports coverage, people can be harsher on people. It used to be just "Terrell Owens doesn't play team ball" or "Terrell Owens is a me-first kind of guy." Now, it's "Terrell Owens is a dick" or "Fuck T.O. He's a horrible person." Ironically, the harsher criticisms of athletes are coming from the people who know them the least.
I'm not here to denounce all forms of media. It'd be pretty hypocritical if I did. However, when it comes to players, criticisms are much harsher than they were. Reporters are doing their job, trying to come up with a story, and as that goes on, we start to forget that athletes are people. Just because they make millions of dollars, shoot Nike ads, or play in front of a national audience, they aren't any less human. Guys like T.O., Steve Smith, Alex Rodriguez, LeBron James, and every other athlete out there is just as fucked up as you and I are. We just tend to forget it because they make big plays on the big stage.
I know for sure that I care about what people think about me. Some people say they don't, but 99% of those people are full of shit. If you were to wake up one morning, turn on the news, and suddenly, everyone was branding you as a horrible human being, how would that be? Now imagine doing it every morning of your life. These are people who don't know you. These aren't your friends. These people don't know what kind of life you lived growing up and they don't know your fears. They just saw you one day when you weren't at your best and just assume your entire life is like that.
I'm not all of a sudden defending Terrell Owens. They way he conducts himself with his teams and the media has been poor. There's no excuse for that. But that doesn't mean he's a horrible person. What do you really know about him? Did you know that growing up, his grandmother wouldn't let him leave the house to play at all? When he got a bike for Christmas, he could only ride it around the driveway because his grandmother was over-protective. Did you know when he was eleven, he had a crush on a girl across the street? Her father told him he couldn't date her. You know the reason why? Because she was his sister. That's right, his father and sister lived across the street from him for over ten years and he never knew. These things give us an idea that T.O. has a human side that we all choose to ignore as we bash him.
If it were a suicide attempt, I honestly don't think that he did it just because of what people say about him. At this point in his career, he probably has the fewest fans since Philly fans despise him and he hasn't endeared himself to Dallas yet. If he was having personal issues, I wouldn't be surprised if the constant hatred spouted about him didn't push him farther into a depression. If he's at all like you and me, he does care what people think of him.
My point here is not to warn the media to stop reporting like they do. Sports and entertainment has always been a business where people are placed under a microscope. My point is to simply remember that you don't know everything about a person. If you are going to write something about a player, don't succumb to hyperbole and generalization. They're human like the rest of us. They're the neighbors we assume we know about. And with those neighbors, we are so often wrong.