Owens’ Selfish Antics May Have Painted Many Black Athletes As ‘Difficult’ To Deal With

By Gregory Moore
Updated: November 9, 2005

SAN ANTONIO, TX— — Just how far has Terrell Owens damaged his career and that of many other talented African American athletes? Well if you want to put it on a monetary term, the exploits of the embattled wide receiver may have cost him a few millions and it may have definitely cost other ‘troubled’ athletes eight figures in endorsement deals.

If this sounds like an off base diatribe, let me assure you that in Black America, perception is very much a real entity when being compared to the rest of the world. While Owens may have been just one individual, the mere fact that in the sports realm, African Americans make up a good majority of the nation’s football teams and basketball teams that are seen across the country. On the professional level, Black athletes have the opportunity to be financially secure once they leave the game and a good example is that of Donovan McNabb. McNabb can be compared to Michael Jordan as he has transcended his sports of ‘faceless’ individuals wearing a helmet and has transformed himself and his family into the media darlings of Madison Avenue.

But what does Owens’ antics have to do with McNabb and others? Simply put as much as McNabb may be a positive selling agent for companies, these media buyers are very wary of using athletes who have ‘questionable’ work practices, behavioral issues or societal dilemmas. Owens falls into the latter category because everything he has done to disrupt the team has also been ‘documented’ by media buyers.

To get a better understanding let’s use Owens in an example. Let’s say that if Owens was the ‘shy’ kid from Alabama and that persona was prevalent where he was always congeal, always mannerable and respectful, he would have some very good endorsements although they may not be very lucrative. The ‘nice’ Terrell may have his own food commercial, several print ads in magazines of him endorsing fitness products and even a car dealership deal. His guestimated worth of such deals for the good T.O.? An estimated $1 million to $3 million could be possible.

Let’s say that Owens is just a shade under his ‘destructive’ self but has some of the ‘good T.O.’ qualities when it comes to dealing with people. Because this persona may have an edge to him, this Owens’ persona may have lost a food deal here and there but he could still get some major fitness deals, some guest appearances in a few small screen projects like sit coms, dramatic series and even music videos. He could still garner some major endorsements on cars like a Dodge Viper and the like and be seen in magazines like VIBE endorsing the ‘urban’ culture. His guestimated worth could possibly have been $3 million or $4 million if that was his actual self.

However the current T.O. loses out on any of the afore mentioned scenarios because he is now considered an advertising risk. Character flaws such as combativeness with teammates or management play a humongous role in whether companies will use athletes to endorse their products. Owens’ combative nature during the past few months has cost him millions in off the field salary.

So how does this equate to other African American athletes who may have very similar pathological profiles? It affects them in the realm of acceptance and ability to be a team player in the corporate world.

If an athlete, especially a minority, is deemed to be difficult, a prima donna, stuck on himself and only thinks of himself and not others, the chances of him getting an endorsement deal are slim. African American athletes who are playing professional sports most definitely need to adhere to being ‘social’ butterflies. It is not too hard to look at such players as Milton Bradley, Owens, Latrell Sprewell and others who have been defiant individuals on the court and see whether or not they have lucrative endorsement deals.

By no means is this column suggesting that African American athletes need to kiss butt in order to make outside money. What is being suggested is that maybe it is time to truly understand the worth of your career OUTSIDE the chalk lines of the playing field. Agents are supposed to do that assessment for you but you should never just rely on someone that you are paying to represent you.

Owens’s actions has grouped quite a few talented but egotistical African American athletes as being trouble makers and that may not be a fair assessment by endorsement deal makers. Fortune 500 companies pay big dollars to athletes to sell their products in national advertisements. These companies want ‘team players’ and not renegades that could give the company a negative image to their buying public. Players of Owens’ ilk don’t understand that concept but it is a lesson to be learned.