There are known knowns, there are unknown knowns, there are unknown unknowns, and there are known clowns. There is also Terrell Owens. I don't know what he is. I haven't met him. He and I have never corresponded. As far as I know, he doesn't read my column. Given my uninformed position, I'm going out on a limb with my next assertion: That guy's crazy.
Mind you, I'm in a privileged position. I can make such pronouncements about strangers because I've been crazy for a long time. I'm not the kind of crazy that gets naked and runs out in the street proclaiming the end of days. I'm not the kind of crazy that sits in the park rubbing weeds in my hair and talking to invisible friends. I'm not the kind of crazy that ties a "born to lose" bandana around my head, takes a deer rifle to a playground and starts picking off soccer moms. I'm a different kind of crazy. I'm the kind of crazy that writes an opinion column, an undertaking that combines ludicrous audacity with morose solitude and somber withdrawal from the real world. There's something else that combines those ingredients-bipolar disorder, a condition that renders one incapable of maintaining a stable mood.
Consider the case of the former San Francisco 49er, former Philadelphia Eagle and current Dallas Cowboy wide receiver known as much for his flamboyant antics and combative exchanges with coaches, teammates and the media as for his uncanny athleticism and occasional scintillating on-field performances. Owens is football's bad boy, a freak of nature whose selfish, individualistic hogging of the media limelight is unparalleled, who exhibits no discernable sense of team sports and agglomerates personal glory and fame without heed to the sensibilities of his comrades. These things are well known.
Now, even more things are known. Last week, the world learned that Owens was treated at Baylor University Medical Center following a 911 call from his "publicist," Kim Etheredge. Rescue workers arrived at Owens' home around 8 p.m. last Tuesday and took him to an emergency room. When word spread, Etheredge claimed Owens had an allergic reaction to the hydrocodone he was prescribed to manage the pain from a broken right hand.
The story changed the next morning, however, when media outlets received a police report saying that Owens had attempted suicide by overdosing on painkillers, putting two more pills into his mouth even after Etheredge intervened. The report said that Etheredge had discovered an empty bottle in which there had been more than 30 pills earlier in the day, that she asked Owens if he'd taken the pills and that he said he had. According to the report, when police arrived and asked Owens if he was trying to harm himself, he said "yes."
The next day, Owens and Etheredge were at the Cowboys' training facility facing the press. The former repeated the initial refrain, alleging that he had suffered an allergic reaction brought upon by taking "maybe four or five" pain pills along with a half-dozen or so "all-natural supplements." Etheredge denied trying to remove anything from Owens' mouth and denied saying most of what the police report alleges she said. She did say, "I feel they take advantage of Terrell. Had this been someone else, this may not have happened." Maybe she's right.
Either way, as far as I'm concerned, if T.O. got in a funk and tried to make it better by fisting down a wad of pills, that's his business. As far as I'm concerned, if one wants to keep one's demons private, one has the right to do so. As far as I'm concerned, if T.O. has a problem, we have no business prying into the melancholy that might overcome him at times, as it does many of us.
But I was bothered by Etheredge's final remark at the news conference. As she left the room, she said to the huddle of reporters, "Terrell has 25 million reasons why he should be alive," referring to his $25 million contract with the Cowboys.
Consider the logic that underlies that comment. According to Etheredge, whose background in cognitive science is unknown to me, if one is fabulously rich, one can't be suicidal. I suppose, conversely, that if Terrell Owens were poor, perhaps he should be suicidal.
Kim, it doesn't work that way. Lots of rich people are crazy. Robin Williams, John Cleese, Patrick Kennedy, Kim Jong-Il-the list goes on. And not all poor people want to kill themselves because they don't have football contracts. No, Kim, mental health is not that simple. External factors do not, by themselves, shape one's internal biology. Actor Freddie Prinze killed himself at the height of his fame. He was 22 years old. He was a millionaire and he shot himself in the head while sitting on a hotel room sofa as his business manager looked on in horror.
Whether or not Owens felt suicidal, and whether or not his frequent on-camera outbursts are symptomatic of something horribly wrong, using the press to obfuscate the truth about the potentially deadly consequences of mental illness is irresponsible. I don't know what Owens' intentions might have been. I do know that ingesting an overdose of hydrocodone is not the sort of thing most people do. It's the sort of thing that suicidal people do, lucidly or otherwise.
I haven't any right to speculate about Owens' personal affairs, and I haven't any right to expect him to use his celebrity status to opine intelligently about the widespread and misunderstood reality of mental illness. But I would sure appreciate it if his publicist would refrain from making insensitive remarks. Most of all, I would appreciate it if Owens would seek help, if he needs it, and that if he does so, he would be open about it because, no matter what opinion the world may have of him at this point, it is not too late for him to do something good despite himself.
Tony Phillips blogs at www.fifthavenuegazette.com. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and editor@SDcitybeat.com.