Terrell Owens: A Man in Limbo

Underneath all the end-zone celebrations and controversy is a man with an uncertain future.

A recent GQ profile finds wide receiver Terrell Owens asking the question: what do you do when you wake up low on cash, alone, jobless, and despite your enviable talent, no one is calling for an interview?

The Cincinnati Bengals did not renew Owens’ contract after his season-long courtship with the team. His properties became dead weight when the economy crashed, and a couple of busted high-risk investments caused mayhem in his bank account. He is now tied up in court with the mothers of his children over the child support payments he subsequently had to downsize. Lastly, when his agent held a televised workout to gain interest and show Owens’ full recovery from an off-season ACL injury, not one NFL team showed.

When I mentioned Terrell Owens’ situation to a friend, they curtly responded with “Well, he’s made around eighty million during his career. That’s more than I’ll make in three lifetimes; I don’t feel any sympathy for him.”

In almost any other situation I would have responded the same way, but something struck me about the way Terrell Owens’ spoke in his interview with GQ that kept me from brushing him off: he wasn’t being inflammatory. He wasn’t being self-destructive, so I couldn’t gawk at his misfortune. I couldn’t even muster the usual condescending disapproval that comes from a star being disruptive, because he wasn’t being that either. He just sounded like a man in limbo.


Terrell Owens has always been a brilliant athlete with a dark passenger in the form of a brash and showy personality. His reputation has left him bouncing between teams after unexpected releases. So, when he signed with the Bengals to play alongside Chad Ochocinco, another notorious player, it looked like trouble.

Everyone I talked to thought the wide receivers were going to be two explosive chemicals that would leave the team looking like a bad science experiment. But instead, Owens was strangely quiet and polite, as he was with his previous team, the Buffalo Bills.

Celebrities and big-name athletes are like cartoon characters: we get up on Saturday morning to watch them for our fill of vicarious achievement and entertainment. When their lives fall apart they either receive even more limelight or they drop off the radar and a new star rises to take their place. They seem intangible and disposable. Yet when the fame, end-zone celebrations and controversial quotes faded away with Terrell Owens, it didn’t reveal an empty cartoon mask, but a man.


“I’m human; that’s what people don’t realize. I may be a public figure, but really, I’m just like a guy who could be in your family and have some difficult things happen to him,” Owens said.

Despite it being the easier way out, he spent very little of his time in his interview blaming his former bosses, coworkers, and one night stands for his problems.  He admits going into financial situations blindly, mistiming his words, and how he should have done his contracts a little differently. When the interviewer asked him about the incident after Superbowl thirty-four between him and Donovan McNabb, he started with “Well, I probably should have done..,” but stopped and moved on.

Is this just a ploy to seem different in order to get picked up by a team? Or is this a truly sobering moment in Terrell Owens’ life? Time will tell, but in the meantime Owens is doing what he can. He is working on his relationship with his children and trying to get in contact with his youngest child to make sure he doesn’t abandon him like his father did him. Additionally, he has signed with the Wranglers, an indoor football team based in Allen, Texas for the two-thousand and twelve season.

Owens has the chance to rebuild and change and expressed that’s what he truly wants to do. He already worked hard to build a life out of a loveless childhood in a small town in Alabama to become who we know him as today. Finding himself at the bottom again, he has a chance to take himself to the next level and become a hall-of-fame athlete, a loving father, and the great man that we all know he can be.

—Photo  Atlanta_Falcons/Flickr

About Deanna Ogle

Deanna Ogle hails from the greater Detroit area and her work has appeared in The Good Men Project, The Printed Blog, and Provoketive Magazine. She is studying journalism and religious studies, and writes at her personal blog Soul like a Spider. Loves: carnations, iced espresso, and watching movies with her husband. Find her at Twitter, Google and Facebook.

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