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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Owens talented but his talk is out of bounds

Terrell Owens is much like that annoying uncle, twice removed, who comes to the family barbecue early and stays late.

He's a pain in the butt, but, hey, he's family, so you look the other way when he eats and drinks too much, talks too loud, and passes out on the living room couch.

Pro football fans in general and the NFL in particular tolerate Owens, or T.O. (no doubt short for Terribly Offensive) for the same reason.

Owens criticizes teammates and coaches. He places his individual accomplishments ahead of his team's.

His anti-social locker room behavior is tolerated because he's a big-play receiver. He's a highlight film waiting to happen.

In the NFL, nothing's more important than talent.

That's why Owens' ridiculous babbling in a Playboy magazine interview that former teammate Jeff Garcia is gay likely will pass with time.

In jockdom, the only thing worse than being called gay is being called a racist.

Words are only words. But they can hurt.

Owens intended to hurt Garcia with his words. Only he knows why.

Football is considered a "manly" sport. Although there are undoubtedly gay athletes in the NFL - as there are in every walk of life - the ostracism and peer pressure attached to being a gay football player would create an uncomfortable and possibly intolerable situation for the player, his teammates, management, fans, and the media.

The irony, of course, is that Garcia currently dates the 2004 Playboy Playmate of the Year.

Does that make Garcia heterosexual? Well, it does make Owens look foolish.

Owens' animosity toward Garcia, who now plays for the Cleveland Browns, didn't give him the right to insinuate that Garcia is gay.

When confronted by Philadelphia reporters, Owens, who joined the Eagles in the offseason, backed off his original comments.

"My thing was I didn't say that he was gay," Owens said. "Like I said, the conversation and interview was loose and from my knowledge I'm not sure if Jeff is gay or not."

You know what? That sounds like Owens is continuing to use the media to make personal attacks against Garcia and then not being big and bad enough to defend his words.

When the two played for the San Francisco 49ers, Owens publicly criticized Garcia's arm strength and suggested that coach Dennis Erickson replace Garcia with Tim Rattay.

Owens also verbally assaulted former 49ers coach Steve Mariccui (now coaching the Detroit Lions) and second-guessed former offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp for not getting Owens enough touches.

San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist David Steele said Owens made a lot of big plays for the 49ers. He also said Owens short-armed passes, especially going across the middle, and that those drops tended to go overlooked.

I've known David for a long time; I respect his opinion.

Philadelphians are the least tolerant of all pro sports fans. I grew up in the city of Brotherly Love (correctly named until it pertains to sports). Fans there turn against their heroes faster than they can wolf down a cheesesteak.

If Owens short-arms enough of Donovan McNabb's passes, he could be in for a rude awakening. Only this time he won't be able to blame Garcia.


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