As the legendary NFL wide-receiver moves into the business world, he has to find the right balance
Terrell Owens does not know who Zlatan Ibrahimovic is, but from what I tell him, he likes his style and from what he tells me, they are on similar paths.
“Bold and brash” are some of the words the former 3rd-round pick uses to describe himself and anyone who has seen him in action will agree.
There seems to be an effort, however, to change the perception of the Terrell Owens we saw dancing on the star at Cowboys Stadium, or the Terrell Owens who was suspended from the Philadelphia Eagles after criticising the starting quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The line between confidence and arrogance is a hard one to navigate, and it’s something that has hurt Owens maybe more than it has helped him in the past. But he is not going to change. He is simply trying to show people that he knows the difference between the two.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself, and I think that's what a lot of people saw on the football field. That was perceived the wrong way by a number of analysts and commentators that really tried to take my confidence and portray it as arrogance,” he says.
“I definitely know the difference between the two.”
And you get the sense that he does. This is, after all, a man who was told that Bill Walsh said he had one of the highest IQs out of all the players who he had dealt with. That’s probably the best coach that ever coached the game, and T.O., a man seen as a perennial trouble-maker.
But where does that star-dancing, sit-up doing, sharpie-yielding T.O. that graced our television screen every Sunday for 10 years end, and the real Terrell Owens ? There’s very little difference between the two, it seems.
“I think they're all one in the same,” he says. “I still bring that confidence and that intelligence to this world - the world of business. It's just not in a setting or an environment where I am able to be as boisterous or I don't have microphones in my face, I'm not able to use my physical attributes to take me to another level.”
“I started thinking about coming out of high school, going into college, I was said to be a prototype, this prototypical wide receiver,“ he smiles as he explains the creative process behind the name for his new clothing brand, prototype81.
And the kicker? "You can’t spell prototype without T.O."
Image: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens (81) and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (85) during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)
For many more, he is a prototypical trouble-maker; a loud mouth and a player who was prone to outbursts that did not help his team.
"I didn't have the greatest of media training," he concedes. "I have made some mistakes along the way, but sometimes that's your best teacher. Life's lessons are your best teacher."
One such player who is currently learning some harsh life lessons, given the backlash for his gesture during the national anthem, is Colin Kaepernick. Owens appreciates what he is doing, but understands it might take years before people realise how important it is.
"We have so many powerful leaders that have stood up for the rights of others, and you see a guy like Colin Kaepernick, he's young and you don't really think of putting him in that class of historic figures as your Martin Luther Kings or your Jim Browns. "
But maybe they weren’t seen as visionaries in their time either. Sometimes, it takes some time to pass, for history to undergo some revision, and for continued dialogue and actions to put them at the front and centre of American history before people really see the difference they made.
“Years from now, people are going to be talking about Colin Kaepernick, probably not to the extent of your Jim Browns or Martin Luther Kings or your Rosa Parks, but at the same time its going to be talked about.”
On the morning we sit down to talk, something else that people will be talking about for years to come has just happened. Donald Trump has been named President of the United States.
“We have to find a way to rally around whoever our leader is,” Owens says accepting the result. He doesn’t seem entirely keen on either candidate though and from what he hears, he says, it is like picking the best of a bad bunch.
For Owens, as much talking as he did on the field and off it, he could always back it up. He says it’s time for the President-elect to do the same.
“I congratulate him on the race, and I think now that he's in a position of power, and after what he has been putting out there to America, saying he will 'Make America Great Again', now he has to back up those words. Actions speak louder than words at this point.”
Owens is taking on the business world now with the same mindset that helped him dominate the National Football League, and an attitude he says, that would have seen him make it in the NBA had he tried.
He even likens himself to a start-up.
"There's a parallel to being a start-up, coming here with all the tech companies. That's how I was coming out of high school and college and then going to the pros. I was a start-up."
"I’m not as tall as Scottie Pippen," he admits, but claims that this is who was most like. He might not have been good enough right away, but this is where the desire, dedication and discipline that Owens mentions would have come in.
“It's all about development. Developing that skill-set and that's how it is. I'm sure as the years would have gone on, I would have gotten better, and better and better.”
On the football field, he dominated and still thinks he could now. He made himself available to any team in the NFL in need of a wide receiver recently, and while he says he is not actively looking to get back in the league, he could certainly still throw it down with the best of them.
"There is no doubt about it, and that’s not just me being boastful or anything like that. I think considering what I did over the age of 30, and anything that I did over the age of 35, by the league standards if you look at my statistics I stayed very, very productive. I stayed right there with the top receivers."
He is right. At the age of 37 in 2010, he caught 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns. Along with the 15 other years he spent eating NFL defensive backs for Sunday dinner, he is one of the best wide receivers there ever was.
The start-up analogy is quite interesting. He was not highly sought after coming out of high school, and The same can be said for college when, as he says himself, “I was drafted on potential” and he was constantly looked upon with doubting eyes even when he had made it in the NFL.
His production? 15,934 receiving yards, 1,078 receptions, 153 touchdowns.
As start-ups go, that’s a pretty solid return on your investment, for everyone. Everyone except for those who doubted him.