Terrell Owens was sitting at a coffee shop near his home in Los Angeles on the eve of Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, laughing after he was asked why he wasn’t in Canton, Ohio, with his gold jacket; catching up with fellow Hall of Famers.
“I’m not going there and I won’t be watching on TV,” Owens said. “I didn’t even watch last year when I was inducted. I was in my hotel in Chattanooga before I went to the arena to give my speech.”
Owens, who retired from the NFL second to only Jerry Rice in receiving yards and touchdown receptions, was not voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility despite a resume second only to Rice, the greatest wide receiver in league history. He finally received the necessary votes last year but declined to go to the ceremony in Canton and became the first inductee to skip his official induction. Owens instead held his own event at the McKenzie Arena on the campus of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his alma mater.
“The first year comes and goes and I tried not to take it personally,” Owens said. “My stats were what they were and weren’t going to change. The second year comes up and Marvin Harrison gets in and I don’t when my statistics are better than his. Now it’s a slap in the face. You’re now denying me what I’ve rightfully earned. You’re disrespecting me and everything I’ve done in my career. You’re denying me something I deserve for your personal opinion and that’s what went into doing my own thing. You’re not going to tell me twice I’m not worthy of what I was worthy of from the start and tell me what to do.”
Owens, who has his Hall of Fame gold jacket in his closet at home along with a smaller replica of his bust, said he would have happily given his acceptance speech in Canton if he had gotten in during his first or even second year of eligibility but felt the prolonged snub pushed him to a point where he’s not sure when he will step foot into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Just because you want to let me in when it feels right to you isn’t an olive branch to me,” Owens said. “You disrespected me and spit on me for two years. I’m not doing what you tell me to do. You’re not going to ... on me and think I’m going to do a song and dance for you when you want me to. It doesn’t work that way with me.”
Owens, who has lived in Los Angeles for the last seven years since retiring from football, spoke as he prepared for an event Sunday night he’s headlining at USC where he will tell stories and try to change the negative perception of “T.O.,” which led to his Hall of Fame holding pattern. The speaking engagement is one of several Owens is planning to do around the country with Engage, an online speaking platform founded by Jake Olson, who made news as USC’s blind long snapper before graduating earlier this year.
“Everyone knows about T.O., but I want to pull that curtain back and let them get to know Terrell,” Owens said. “I was raised by my grandmother and she let me know how ... the world is and how ... people are and I took that to heart. I didn’t trust a lot of people. You’re a product of your environment and that hurt me in my professional and personal life.”
Owens speaks with the fervor of a motivational speaker when he talks to anyone. The first question he gets turns into a 15-minute summation of his life from being born in rural Alabama to going to college in Chattanooga to a Hall of Fame career he never envisioned even in the twilight of his time in the NFL.
“When I was nominated that first year, I was sitting in my condo on Coldwater Canyon, just wondering how I was even able to get to this point,” Owens said. “I came from a small town and went to a small school that only recruited me because they were recruiting another receiver at our high school so they made an offer to us as a package deal. I played four years and played basketball too because I never thought I would get drafted. I never had aspirations to play pro football. I only went there because they offered me a scholarship and my grandma couldn’t afford to send me to school.”
There’s a part of Owens, 45, that wishes he could still play one more season as he watches Tom Brady enter next season at 42 years old. He never wanted his last snap in the league to come in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he believes the short shelf life of players in the NFL, non-guaranteed contracts and the ability for owners to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the game won’t change until players are willing to sit out an entire season and for former players to make a similar stand in solidarity at events such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.
“The game is so political,” Owens said. “It’s so clear that the owners feel like they own the players and they’ll never give them what they deserve. They have these players thinking they need the owners to survive when it’s the other way around. The NFL wouldn’t be the NFL without the players. Once the players figure that out and stick together, the owners are going to be up [a] creek without a paddle. Look at the NBA, MLB and NHL with their guaranteed contracts, but these players have to sacrifice and be willing to stand their ground to get what they deserve and they haven’t done that yet.”
While Owens was in Los Angeles instead of Canton for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, he said he will go someday, but not for those who made him wait.
“I will go at some point with my kids and family,” Owens said. “I don’t know when. I’m not ready yet. There’s nothing they can do. The damage has been done. They can apologize, but that’s not going to change anything. Everyone knows I should have been in on the first ballot. They disrespected me, my family and my kids. I’ll go one day, but I’ll go when I’m ready.”