Donning a gold jacket for his personal Pro Football Hall of Fame celebration in Chattanooga, Terrell Owens gave a speech Saturday that addressed his absence from the official enshrinement ceremonies in Canton.
"I want to address the elephant in the room. Many of you may be wondering why we're here instead of Canton," Owens told the hometown crowd. "There's been a lot of speculation and false reports as to why I chose not to be there. I would like to set the record straight.
"It's not because [of] how many times it took me [to be] voted [into] the Hall. It's about the mere fact that the sports writers are not in alignment with the mission and core values of the Hall of Fame. These writers disregarded the system, the criteria, and bylaws in which guys are inducted and ultimately the true meaning of the Hall of Fame and what it represents."
According to the Hall of Fame's selection criteria, voters are instructed to take into account only what the players have done on the field. In the case of coaches and contributors, the criteria is adjusted to emphasize what they did in and around the game that influenced the sport.
Owens' protest stems from his opinion that certain members of the selection committee held off-the-field issues against him, delaying his election for two years.
"I wanted to take a stand so the next guy coming after me will not have to go through what I and others have gone through; whether it's three years or 45 years, you should get what you rightfully earned," Owens continued. "It's not always a popular stance to go against the grain, however in my heart I know this is the right thing to do. ... I greatly appreciate those that understand or support my decision. I hope it creates a dialogue that leads to change. I am here in Chattanooga with all of you because this is where it all started and little did I know that is where I will close this chapter."
On the biggest day of Owens' football life, though, he opted to shine a positive light on their contributions to his success.
"To all my teammates and opponents that helped me amass the statistical numbers that led to this induction," Owens said, "whether you pushed me or pulled me, drained me or fueled me, loved me, hated me or had a strong dislike for me, you were a part of my growth and my success. This is for you.
"The truth is I have worked tremendously hard for this honor that I have received today. I am not a perfect man. I have made a lot of mistakes, but that's what happens when you start a professional football career at 22 years old. I've gone through a lot. Albert Einstein said adversity introduces a man to himself. Now at 44 years old, I like who I've become. I'm a man of conviction, a man of faith, a man of humility, a man of character and integrity. A man of charisma and discipline. I am a man of courage, courageous enough to choose Chattanooga over Canton."
Although Owens acknowledged that his locker-room persona was an issue at times, he again directed the blame at writers.
Unwilling to address the self-inflicted nature of his wounds, Owens diminished his own role in the theatrics that came to define his image. The controversies throughout his career were blown out of proportion by the overzealous media coverage, Owens insisted, and don't accurately reflect his experience with teammates.
"Some of my teammates are here who played with me," Owens continued. "... I know it wasn't easy to support me, especially when my confidence was misconstrued as arrogance, my passion was perceived as cockiness. But that passion came from my hunger and that dedication to be great, to be a great athlete. That hunger has created this opportunity to honor and to influence."