A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Achilles and Terrell Owens


Like the great warrior Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, there is much of which Terrell Owens can be proud. His hard work, talent and determination have made him a multi-millionaire, and established his reputation as one of the premier receivers in the NFL. He has also managed to solidify a reputation for being locker room poison and a prima donna. Last week the Philadelphia Eagles suspended him indefinitely for giving an interview in which he suggested his team would be better off with a different quarterback, and complained that his 100th career touchdown had gone unrecognized:

Owens: "I just felt like it was an embarrassment.
It just shows the lack of class that they had."

In Troilus and Cressida, Ulysses comments on Achilles' similar behavior:

Uly: "What glory our Achilles shares from Hector,
Were he not proud, we all should share with him,
But he already is too insolent,
And we were better parch in Afric sun
Than in the pride and salt scorn of his eyes…".

Ulysses on behalf of Athens and the Eagles' front office on behalf of Philadelphia made the same call, with Ulysses benching Achilles in favor of Ajax in a coming battle with Hector, and Philly suspending Owens. Owens was given until last Saturday to apologize. Here is what he said this Tuesday in front of his very nice home:

Owens: "The mentality that I have, my greatest
strength can also be my greatest weakness.
I'm a fighter. I've always been and I'll always
be. I fight for what I think is right. In doing so,
I alienated a lot of my fans and my teammates."

Was this an apology? Well, as we examine the statement, we see that the alienation he caused his fans appears to be framed as a necessary price the fans must pay for exposure to Owen's greatest strength, his mentality, which is also his greatest weakness. This is more an explanation than an apology. Great strengths that are also great weaknesses are the stuff of Greek tragedy, leading us back to our comparison with Achilles. But of course, as we proceed, we should remain mindful of the distinction between the tragic and the pathetic.

Ach: "What, am I poor of late?
"Tis certain, greatness, once fall'n out with fortune,
Must fall out with men too. What the declined is
He shall as soon read in the eyes of others
As feel in his own fall; …"

Both Achilles and Owens would be willing to blame the loss of their greatness on a falling out with fortune, should that occur, but they are certain that they are still enjoying fortune's favor. Still, each is beginning to sense that something else may be missing:

Ach: "…But 'tis not so with me;
Fortune and I are friends. I do enjoy
At ample point all that I did possess,
Save these men's looks, who do, methinks, find out
Something not worth in me such rich beholding
As they have often given….".

Owens: "This is very painful for me to be in
this position. I know in my heart that I can
help the team win the Super Bowl and not
only be a dominant player, but also be a team
player. I can bring that."

There needs no ghost come from the grave to suggest to us that our society is facing a crisis of confidence within the institutions that exert duly constituted authority. Recently an entire college administration found itself unable to articulate a basis for shutting down the campus broadcast of a hard-core pornographic movie produced by a student. Indeed the NFL itself was hoodwinked by an exhibitionistic and dark-hearted half-time show in a not-too-distant Super Bowl. And in an act that was commendable but that should not have been necessary, the NBA was obliged to institute a dress code for its millionaire role models players, who model themselves on gang-bangers.

And so it is heartening to see the Philadelphia Eagles make the painful but correct decision to walk away from a great receiver whose tragic flaw, or more accurately whose pathetic flaw, is that he is a poor teammate. A generation of football fans may learn from this the vicarious lesson that there are limits in all things.

Ach: "For they passed by me as misers do by beggers,
Neither gave to me good word nor look.
What, are my deeds forgot?"

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