Partially OT: T.O.

I assume most are keeping current with the AP story that Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens reportedly attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription pain medication.  Though it's newsworthy because of his fame, it also points out something we don't remember enough...that these guys are under a huge amount of pressure and are usually not surrounded by people who are invested in helping them deal with it.  We've always written T.O. off as a celebrity-seeking grandstander, but what if his erratic behavior betokened deeper issues?  Despite what drug company commericals would have you believe, depression and mental illness are still not widely recognized, understood, or talked about in this country, let alone treated.  There's still a fair amount of fear and ostracism that go along with those conditions/behaviors.  That's something a public figure might be loathe to undergo, even if it meant getting help.  

Athletes in particular live in an ultra-competitive world where they are expected to be Supermen and any weakness will be exploited on the field and ridiculed off it.  Their smallest actions are open to public scrutiny.  99% of their relationships are powered by evaluation, criticism, and blame.  What kind of response would they expect in such an environment, were they to come forward and ask for help?  How much of their position, paycheck, and dignity might they lose?

Attempts at self-medication and/or simply dealing with the issue while keeping it under wraps could very well lead to erratic behavior like we've seen from Owens.  The media eats it up and either laughs or debates its merits.  Those surrounding him either don't know or don't care because they're more concerned about how he performs and/or riding the coattails of his fame.  And so we end up in a place like this, with a huge cry of "Something's WRONG!" following the hundred little cries that should have been understood that way but weren't.

I'm sure some athletes on the fringes of acceptable behavior are just legitimately fringe-type people.  But it makes you wonder with the T.O.'s, Jeremy Shockeys, Rasheed Wallaces, and yes, even Zach Randolphs and Darius Miles(es) of the world, how many of them could be dealing with things we don't see?  And if they were, would or could anyone notice, let alone help?  How much and what kind of responsibility does a team and its management have?  Teammates?  Media?  The fans and community?  How far is too far when it comes to excessive behavior?  If you knew a player had serious problems going unaddressed--addiction to hard drugs, ongoing depression, erratic social behavior--but they still scored 20 a night for you, would you be just as happy rooting for them anyway?  Would it make any difference?

Part of me wants to say it's their life and neither the media, the fans, nor even the team has a responsibility to get them out of whatever they're into as long as they show up to work on time and produce.  On the other hand I get this image of all of us standing around, laughing and clapping, throwing nickels and yelling, "Dance monkey, dance!" while the organ grinder plays.  And if you'll pardon the license, that image doesn't make me "love me some me" that much.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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