His bush-league snub of Hall fur­ther clouds Owens’ legacy

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - LIFE - Jar­rett Bell Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Let’s pray for Terrell Owens. Pray for his in­ner peace. Pray for heal­ing. Pray for sound mind and body. Pray for proud fam­ily mem­bers who sup­ported him be­fore he be­came the car­i­ca­ture wrapped in his “T.O.” per­sona.

It would be easy to hop on a crowded band­wagon and chas­tise Owens for snub­bing the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame as an­other pa­thetic at­tempt to gen­er­ate more “look at me” at­ten­tion to feed that beast of an ego. (And maybe that’s all this is about.)

Per­haps Owens is even lov­ing ev­ery bit of the crit­i­cism aimed in his di­rec­tion since he an­nounced Thurs­day that he’ll pretty much take a knee on the Hall’s tra­di­tional en­shrine­ment chris­ten­ing. Hey, that’s his pre­rog­a­tive. But it’s a ter­ri­ble mis­take. It seems like a no-brainer con­clu­sion that Owens, who seemed to crave the spotlight dur­ing his hey­day, feels like he needs to make some sorry point — at the ex­pense of fel­low Hall of Famers and peo­ple such as Ge­orge Ste­wart, his for­mer po­si­tion coach tapped to present him — by be­com­ing the first (liv­ing) Can­ton-bound en­shri­nee to not bother to show up.

As a mem­ber of the Hall’s se­lec­tion com­mit­tee for 21 years, I’ve been in that room, en­gaged in de­bates about the mer­its of can­di­dates. I fig­u­ra­tively stood on the ta­ble de­fend­ing Owens each year — and not be­cause of his num­bers, which can be so skewed yet so many point to as the defin­ing mea­sure — but be­cause he was sim­ply one of the best of his era.

It’s no se­cret that Owens gen­er­ated some of the most heated ar­gu­ments I’ve wit­nessed dur­ing the se­lec­tion process due to locker room chem­istry is­sues that fol­lowed him like the plague. Such sen­ti­ments were ex­pressed by non-vot­ers, too, in­clud­ing a well-re­spected NFL coach who in­sisted to me this year that he would not have wanted Owens on his team be­cause of the self­ish an­tics that marred Owens’ ac­com­plish­ments over the years.

The Hall’s by­laws stip­u­late that can­di­dacy is based on what hap­pens on the field, which is why Owens was voted in. But it’s tough to ar­gue against his de­trac­tors now. Rather than ris­ing above the crit­i­cism and ac­cept­ing his honor with class and dig­nity, he’s go­ing bush league, putting one more mark on a legacy that has al­ready been tainted by too much fool­ish­ness.

“I feel sorry for Terrell Owens,” tweeted for­mer coach Tony Dungy, in­ducted into the Hall in 2016.

“If he chooses not to at­tend the Hall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­monies he will be miss­ing one of the most mov­ing and emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences some­one could have in foot­ball. In­de­scrib­able mo­ments. It will be his loss, not the Hall’s.”

Be­fore go­ing any fur­ther with this, a quick shout-out to Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Brian Ur­lacher, Brian Dawkins, Robert Brazile, Jerry Kramer and Bobby Beathard. Here’s to the no­tion that the ab­sence of T.O. won’t de­tract one bit from the ul­ti­mate ca­reer-cap­ping mo­ment for the other mem­bers of the Class of 2018.

The show will go on. The Hall is big­ger than any one per­son. And there are thou­sands of for­mer play­ers — such as Ever­son Walls, Karl Meck­len­burg and Joe Ja­coby, well-cre­den­tialed fi­nal­ists who didn’t get in last year — who have their own place in foot­ball his­tory and would be hon­ored to give an in­duc­tion speech.

Yet if Owens, elected in his third year of el­i­gi­bil­ity, is send­ing a pay­back mes­sage be­cause of his de­layed en­try, he has that ass-back­ward. In­stead, this comes off as so self­ish.

Shannon Sharpe, the Hall of Fame tight end (who is quick to lobby that his big brother, Ster­ling, de­serves a gold jacket), was so pas­sion­ate Fri­day on his FS1 show while re­act­ing to the Owens saga. Sharpe, like so many oth­ers, is at a loss to un­der­stand Owens’ de­ci­sion.

Owens — he also skipped out of Min­neapo­lis dur­ing Su­per Bowl week­end, say­ing he had to play in a bas­ket­ball game in Los An­ge­les rather than take a bow with his Hall class­mates — hasn’t re­vealed ex­actly how he’ll cel­e­brate what he calls one of the great­est days of his life when he’s in­ducted.

But he won’t be in Can­ton, Ohio. Maybe Owens has is­sues deeper than many can re­late to, or per­haps it’s just a func­tion of his par­tic­u­lar world­view.

Some­times, we just don’t un­der­stand and can only turn to a higher power.

ROBERT DEUTSCH/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Terrell Owens played for the 49ers, Cow­boys, Ea­gles, Bills and Ben­gals.

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