A Football Legend Assesses Damage From T.O.

By Stephen A. Smith
Updated: October 26, 2006

Jim Brown PHILADELPHIA — In the cocoon known as the sports world, a place where wannabes live vicariously through others while playing Monday-morning quarterback each day of the week, it’s rare to go from defiant to confused, from compromising to educated, right up until the moment you are truly sorry about the judgment you made against a modern-day athlete.

Never in my life did I believe anyone – myself, in particular – would have a reason to feel this way when it came to Donovan McNabb and the way he handled that fiasco within the Eagles’ organization involving the perpetrator known as Terrell Owens.

That is until a different perspective was provided, crystallizing McNabb’s plight in ways that should make a face cringe and a body contort in anger and disgust, mainly because you didn’t see it earlier.

“What Terrell Owens did to Donovan was unconscionable,” Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, told me yesterday. “More so because, to this day, people don’t even realize what he did to Donovan.

“Donovan had to be taken out of his position of leadership,” Brown said. “He had to try to figure out how to get along with a guy that he did not like. Donovan had to deal with the management. He had to deal with the other players”.

“He was put in a state where he didn’t know who the hell he was or what stand he should take. Right and righteousness went out of the window”.

“He threw key interceptions. Donovan was unsure of himself. You had a split locker room, so he had to be very careful of the locker room. And so, therefore, what was in him but confusion? How do you know what to do when you can’t just do the right thing?”

As we ponder the still-flourishing career of McNabb, wondering from week to week whether his heroics and pitfalls will translate into victory or defeat, Brown had something far deeper on his mind about the Eagles quarterback.

He was thinking of the man, not the football player. The human being psychologically damaged by a petulant stud of an athlete who was more desperate for attention and money than significance.

Brown reminded me of McNabb’s 3,875 yards passing in 2004, and how Owens was a huge part of that. He also talked about the relationship between McNabb and Owens, how it had regressed to soap-opera status, with the damage to McNabb far more substantial than most of us realized.

Brown asked: “Whose manhood was questioned? Whose blackness was discussed on air? In columns?”

For that, I was rendered speechless. As most of us know, you can take away as many touchdowns as you want, but when someone’s manhood is attached to a question mark, his upbringing actually stigmatized by a few partial to the ways of Owens, who really ended up the victim in all this? Despite what’s transpiring with the Eagles this season.

“Oh, it’s terrible,” Brown continued in a phone interview. “African American partnerships are so necessary in the high-profile world of big money. When you have two brothers who can be positive and produce and demand big salaries and speak out on issues that are very valuable, that is so powerful in our culture.

“What [Owens] did is take a quarterback, a black quarterback, and bring him down to confusion. He left us with nothing but a train wreck [in McNabb], when we are the underdogs that have to perform and conduct ourselves in a manner and use our money and intelligence and work in a keen way.

“What he did was almost destroy Donovan’s ability to reach outside of just coming back this year and proving he can play football. Donovan was headed into another direction as a spokesperson, as an example for this whole damn country”.

“Now he’s just a football player trying to prove himself again because Terrell had us all looking at [what's wrong with] Donovan. So maybe Donovan is messed up, too”.

Here’s hoping he’s not. At least that’s what we all want to believe.

Yet when listening to Brown, perhaps it’s worth reflecting on the past one more time – what McNabb truly went through and what damage was done to him.

We can say it’s nothing. Certainly nothing he won’t overcome. But how can we ever truly know if we’re not inside his soul, absorbing the wounds that were caused by one man’s selfishness and a society’s penchant for turning the other cheek on such matters?

Perhaps someone will have that answer someday.

I wish it had come sooner. I’m sorry it didn’t.