Special to Page 2
Hide their reading lamp, spike their mac and cheese dinners with Ambien or just poke your kids' eyes out with your forefinger, because on Nov. 15 "Little T Learns to Share," a children's book by a fella named Terrell Owens, hits your neighborhood bookseller's shelves.
Such was the prevailing wisdom bandied about by parents, sports fans, and fans of young persons everywhere when BenBella Books announced in October that Owens, the most maligned athlete of his generation, would write a series of books dubbed "T.O.'s Timeout" aimed at smacking your tyke upside the head with his own hard-learned lessons.
Well, the first one, a 24-page hardcover, arrives Wednesday. So for goodness' sake, when your rugrats particularly those of a 4- to 8-year-old reading level come a-knockin', fire up Wednesday's Emmitt Smith vs. A.C. Slater finale of "Dancing With the Stars" (on corporate sibling ABC, so it's bound to be super-awesome) and skip Owens' bedtime story.
Or, you know, don't. Because the author is only trying to help.
"In my situation, I'm a role model, and I know that some people aren't OK with that," the Cowboys' wide receiver tells me after an early November practice. "But the fact is, kids know me and they pay close attention to what I do and say, so this is a chance for me to take advantage of my podium to share with little kids what they need to learn."
True, sharing the topic of the first entry in the series is an important lesson. But is Owens the one to teach it? He says he is. After all, it's those who've fallen into the well who are best suited to lead the way out.
"People have labeled me selfish because like all receivers in all generations, we whine and gripe about getting the ball," Owens admits. "But in the scheme of team play, I've learned I need to share the ball to win ball games. Some of my teammates, like Terry Glenn and Jason Witten, they can do some of the things that I can do."
Sure, but can they write? Owens has previously penned two autobiographies, 2004's "Catch This!" with Stephen Singular and '06's "T.O." with Jason Rosenhaus. But his latest endeavor in ink is his boldest and certainly his most noble. It's also his latest effort to do right by children. Earlier this year, he launched the "Terrell Owens Making of Champions Football Camp" in several Dallas-area locations.
Beyond his altruism, Owens has a vested interest in these endeavors. See, he's a dad, too. To how many children and of what age, Owens won't say ("I tend not to disclose that information; I'm a father and that's all they need to know"), but it's clear the author is walking a righteous path.
"I'm a father first, and my real desire is that this book leaves a legacy and hope for my own children," Owens says. "I don't want them to go through what I went through. I want them to learn what I've learned. My career has been a total learning process and, obviously, you're never too old to learn. You know, this book is for little kids, but this is something they can hold onto. I hope the story lines will stick with them through their adolescence and through adulthood."
This time, Owens' sidekick in ink is Courtney Parker, a former classmate at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. According to Owens, upon graduating, Parker went on to pursue a modeling career in L.A. According to her bio, Parker is a "celebrity ghostwriter" (a model and celebrity ghostwriter? Excuse me while I incinerate my résumé). According to Parker herself, she's one of Terrell's best friends and she implores all to get to know the author before passing judgment.
"I have a really hard time reading about Terrell, especially when I read that he's selfish," says Parker, who first met Owens during a freshman year communication course (chew on that, for a sec). "He's by far the most generous person I know, totally selfless. He's the kind of guy you can call at 2 in the morning when you're having a problem, and he'll wake up and talk to you."
Apparently, Owens is also the guy you know, that one guy who will send you birthday cards.
"He loves to read Hallmark cards," Parker adds. "He'll sit there and choose a card that is perfectly suited to you. I always kid with him that he should write for Hallmark."
According to Parker, Owens drove this project from the outset, first introducing the idea for a children's series during his rookie year in San Francisco.
"He's always expressed to me how saddened he is by the fact that young boys don't like to read," he says. "Girls are the ones who are encouraged to disappear into a book, but for boys, sports is their outlet. So he's always wanted to encourage them to read."
The two shelved the idea only to revisit it during the most harrowing time in Owens' career. Shortly after his deactivation by the Eagles, Parker says she was on the phone with Owens when they heard a media member disparaging his soon to be released self-titled autobiography, saying that "it should be placed in the children's section."
"I thought that was harsh, but for Terrell, the light went on," Parker explains. "He said, 'No, that's a good idea. Let's do that children's book.'"
But what subject matter would they tackle? Once again, Parker says Owens took the reigns, choosing to take his critics and all those who doubt him as a role model head-on.
"The first thing he said was it should be about discipline," Parker explains. "I thought that was hilarious, so I was like, 'Yeah, right, you teaching kids about discipline?' But he said, 'Yeah, I want to teach little boys how to act right because the world thinks I don't know how.'"
In his follow up to "Little T Learns to Share," Owens' young fictional counterpart will learn to keep his trap shut in "Little T Learns What Not to Say" (spring '07). It's a lesson Owens says he grasped only recently, following a now-infamous interview with ESPN and just prior to his ousting by the Eagles.
In that interview, Owens was asked if he agreed with a recent statement made by ESPN analyst Michael Irvin, and he seized the opportunity to praise Brett Favre saying a Favre-led Eagles squad would go undefeated and seemingly disparaging his own quarterback, Donovan McNabb.
"The interview was taken out of context," Owens claims. "I was asked about the qualities of a quarterback, so I took the opportunity to say positive things about Brett. It was a compliment to Brett's career and ability and not a slight toward Donovan. The question wasn't directed at me as a comparison and my answer wasn't at all directed at Donovan."
So what, exactly, was the lesson learned? Honesty isn't always the best policy, perhaps?
"Yeah, definitely, you can get your point across without being as honest," Owens acknowledges. "Honesty has been my downfall, especially in Philly, impacting my career and my life. In this profession, you're faced with tough questions and you have to take time to listen before you answer. You need to gauge where the questions are going, because the media can mislead you and attack you from a number of different angles."
Because I'm generally a fan of both misleading and attacking my acquaintances, and even some friends and family, I formulate my next question with great care: Do you, Mr. Owens, regret your actions in Philly?
With this, he pauses to no doubt "digest" the question. Lesson learned.
"That situation in Philly has hit me harder than anything," Owens finally continues. "If I'd taken a moment to digest that particular question and answer it differently, I'd still be in Philly now."
Right. Sounds like regret, to me. But is it an apology? And, going forward, will you, um, shut your trap?
"Well, honesty has created a lot of issues for me and in the media's eyes, its always very, very negative," he admits. "But I was raised to be an honest person and I'll always continue to be that."
If Owens' message is unclear, fear not. He's writing another book that might help drive the point home. In the series' third entry, "Little T Learns to Say I'm Sorry" (fall '07), Owens shares a lesson that he feels he's fully grasped and already heeded: It's never too late to apologize.
"There will be times where you don't want to apologize, but it does make you a better person," Owens says. "Look what you could have done to prevent a situation and then make it better."
Of course, many would claim that this particular wideout isn't exactly the authority on acts of contrition. Before his deactivation by the Eagles in the fall of '05, Owens took a podium outside his home before national media to presumably apologize to his team and his quarterback. It's been said that Owens was less than trite in his comments regarding the latter.
"In my mind, I apologized to Donovan," Owens explains. "I get irritated, because people don't take my apology as an apology. I feel like I apologized, so why do I have to do it again and again and again?"
While the merits of the art won't be debated here (save to say that there are some kick-ass illustrations by Todd Harris, which I'm sure I would have enjoyed if I was, like, 6), a major dilemma does remain:
Can we or, more to the point, should we separate the art from the artist?
It's a quandary that has perplexed art critics and connoisseurs for ages. When innovative filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl unveiled her "Triumph of Will," a documentary glorifying Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, a generation of shooters would bite her advances in film technique while others denounced the filmmaker herself as a propagandist and Nazi sympathizer. More recently, in '99, when the Motion Picture Academy of America elected to give acclaimed director Elia Kazan ("On the Waterfront," "East of Eden") an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, many denounced the move, citing Kazan's Red Scare-era testimony in which he "named names" before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During that ceremony, many Hollywood types including Richard Dreyfuss, Nick Nolte and Holly Hunter sat on their hands or refused to clap.
Now, given the media it is a friggin' kids book, after all and the author's transgressions, the debate doesn't sport as much gravitas, but it is pertinent. While Owens hasn't glorified a Nazi regime or named names, he is the man behind the Sharpie Incident, the Dallas Star Incident, the Gay Quarterback Incident, the Philly Incident and the Burning Down of an Orphanage Incident (well, not the last one, but I bet you didn't bat an eye).
What, now, is a parent to do? Perhaps judge this book, in particular, by its cover.
Look carefully. Read the not-so-fine print.
The cover of Little T's first literary adventure doesn't read by T.O., The Contemptible Gridiron Goon, The Loudmouthed and/or Misunderstood Walking Controversy.
No, the cover simply reads: by Terrell Owens.
The Man, not the Monster. The once-penniless boy raised in rural Alabama. The oft-bullied half-pint who was subjected to ridicule by his peers for the darkness of his skin. The boy without a dad who, unbeknownst to Owens, lived across the street throughout his childhood. The man who has transgressed, and is now attempting to do right.
"When people ask me about T.O., I tell them I'm not as familiar with him as I am with Terrell," Parker explains. "I've been friends with Terrell Owens for a very long time. But T.O., I don't know him as well."
And its Terrell, Parker says, who is indeed a solid role model.
"Terrell believes a good role model is someone who can stand in the face of adversity and keep trying," she says. "That, to me, is the truest characteristic I've seen of Terrell's. If I were him, I would have retired and bowed out gracefully. But Terrell takes responsibility for his mistakes and continues to become a better person."
Which brings us back to the book in your hands. On Wednesday, grab the women, leave the children and run to your community book burning. Or, perhaps, give "Little T" a blind taste test to decide if the lessons learned by a maligned athlete are worthy of your kids' eyes and ears. Because, Owens would suggest, you're never too old to learn. Not about sharing, or apologies, or about the author who wants to share his thoughts on such matters.
See, Owens has more to learn, too. That, he says, is why he has yet to determine the subjects of future books (he's signed for five in total). But if the first three are any indication, these will be lessons worth learning by all kids, some parents and even the author himself.
"I'm still learning and growing," Owens says. "Not only does Little T learn, but big T needs to learn to."
Whatever Owens decides, here's hoping a future title will include "Little T Learns Not to Friggin' Fall Asleep During Team Meetings!"
Word is, The Tuna has written a few books. Maybe he'd like to consult on that one.
Snoop Dogg's (sorta) sports-themed surprise 35th
HOLLYWOOD I'm standing outside club ML Hollywood the site of the exclusive after party to the premiere of "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror," in which five pro ballers have cameos alongside two dozen cast and crew members of said movie, and though we're all toting the proper documentation, we're having a heckuva time getting in. And yet, even though we've been standing here for nearly an hour, I'm not even thinking about complaining. Not even close.
SNOOP ON H.O.H: "I put together something like the 'Twilight Zone,' where there's three different horror stories that's going down. And I'm like the narrator, the wicked spirit. It's a good situation, something fun, something scary, and different than what I normally do."
TAYSHAUN PRINCE ON PLAYING 'FOOTLOOSE,' A LEGLESS, TORMENTED SOUL: "I still have no idea who I was playing. But I can't forget that makeup chair. I'd sit in it for two hours getting blood and some airbrushed makeup on my face. I just wanted to try out acting, but it's not something I really want to do. Snoop has done some acting and that helped a little bit. I've met Snoop before that, but he surprised me a little because he doesn't mess around. He's straight to the point. I'm definitely going to check out the movie. I know my wife is curious."
LAMAR ODOM, WHO PLAYS HIMSELF: "Snoop loves the Lakers, so when they had a scene where a basketball player is presenting an award to a rapper [actor Pooch Hall], they asked me. I shot it with Method Man, so that was cool. I played myself, just like when I did a recent 'Entourage' episode, so that wasn't too difficult. But I'm a little nervous about the premiere. I'm a behind-the-scenes dude, so I'm not sure if I'll go."
SNOOP ON HIS FAVORITE PERFORMANCE BY AN ATHLETE: "Of all the guys in this, my boy Justin Fargas, Lil' Huggy Bear, probably did the best. It's a dramatic part where he plays a dad who kills himself. So it was harder, and he took it real deep."
Click here to view the trailer for "Hood of Horror."
This is partly because cast member Diamond Dallas Page can't get in, either. And he's a really big dude with pro wrestler credentials, to boot.
And it's partly because a dozen roughnecks have commandeered the club's entrance, charged with smacking down any ticket holders who aren't gangsta rappers.
See, the after party is doubling as Snoop's surprise 35th birthday party. While Snoop presumably does not know this, I do, so I greatly respect my place at the bottom of the party's totem pole and the serious-minded hoodlums who are guarding the door.
Finally, some Super Special Green Wristbands make their way through our group. Moments later, we're in.
Once inside, I spot Captain Morgan. Literally. The liquor brand hosted the premiere screening, so some Joe wearing a pirate costume is cackling like I'd imagine only a pirate would, and three scantily clad Pirate Chicks (kinda like the Raiderettes, but sluttier) have his back.
I escape to the cordoned-off, Super-Special-Green-Wristband-Holders Section, where I devour snacks (and Cap'n, of course) alongside Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Cypress Hill's B-Real, Stevie Wonder, Lil Jon, will.i.am from The Black Eyed Peas, Warren G, Nick Cannon and Urkel (yup, that Urkel).
In this strange space, I am like Waldo in "Where's Waldo: The Gangster Rap Edition," particularly if Waldo looked really nervous, carried a notepad and had Rap-Video-Type Mammas circling him.
"Excuse me," says a woman who would only identify herself as a "New York runway model."
"Who are you?"
Ma'am, I'm Waldo, a highly professional sports reporter.
She laughs (at me, not with me), so I laugh, and then we quickly part ways.
Although Lamar Odom, Tayshaun Prince, Justin Fargas and Teyo Johnson have roles in the flick (which bows Nov. 17), none except currently unemployed tight end Johnson show, so my best hope for business-minded banter lies with Snoop, the film's exec producer.
At last, Snoop arrives, looking only mildly surprised. The partygoers including a dozen cheerleaders with "Happy 35th" emblazoned across their protruding chests mob The Dogfather before all are treated to a taped birthday tribute from Hines Ward, Big Ben, Willie Parker and nearly the entire Steelers roster.
Which begs the question: Why the Steelers?
"Why not the Steelers," counters Snoop, a Long Beach native, and who am I to argue. "I've loved them my whole life. I go back to Bradshaw, Swann, Mean Joe Greene. I love 'em, they're my boys, and I'll be with 'em to the end."
Good enough for me. So how is Snoop coping with turning the big 3-5?
"I'm good. I feel like I'm 17 and, so far, everything is still working," he says, as he pats himself down. "I'm checking right now yup, everything's good."
"What a night," Snoop continues, surveying the crowd. "These people mean the world to me, and for everyone to be here, all these great artists, with no one being bigger than the other, everyone a part of the same rap family, it's beautiful.
"Man," he adds. "Life is beautiful."
Sure is, Calvin. Sure is.
Sam Alipour is based in Los Angeles. His Media Blitz column appears in ESPN The Magazine and regularly on Page 2. You can reach him at Sam.Alipour@gmail.com.