This does not come from a place of hate or love or anything in between.
I have zero personal feelings, good or bad, about Terrell Owens.
Critics who want to believe his exclusion from the Pro Football Hall of Fame is driven by some deep-seated loathing of the man are reaching for something that isn't there.
Not with this voter.
I won't speak for the others. This is about my thought process, about how I see Owens, the former wide receiver, and what has influenced that perspective. Frankly, I do not know Owens, the person, well enough to have any positive or negative sentiments about him. In fact, my encounters with him as a journalist – all while he was playing – were good, but that doesn't (or at least shouldn't) matter in the voting process.
I have voted for the induction of more than a few players who were notorious for their lack of cooperation with the media. Again, it's not relevant.
My decision to exclude Owens from the Hall in each of the past two years was reached using the same criteria I've used in all of the voting I've done since joining the shrine's selection panel.
It's based on a thorough study of each candidate's career (as a player, coach, or contributor). Yes, statistics represent a significant part of that data, and, yes, Owens' statistics are undeniably great.
But for me, the numbers do not count an ounce more than the information I glean from discussions I have each year with those who played along side or against the candidates, who coached or coached against them, who were general managers or scouts on the teams for which the candidates played or on opposing clubs.
I also make a point of getting the perspective of as many Hall-of-Famers as possible. I'm inclined to place a bit more weight on this feedback because the Hall of Fame belongs to them, not to me or any of the 45 other media members who comprise the group of selectors.
Last Saturday in Houston, during our annual meeting the day before the Super Bowl, 48 of us met to determine the Hall's Class of 2017. For the first time, two of the voters were Hall-of-Famers: James Lofton, a wide receiver who spent the bulk of his career with the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills, and Dan Fouts, a quarterback who spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers.
In the past several days, each has gone public with how he voted on Owens because, unfortunately, there seems to be far more media discussion about him than about the actual members of the Class of 2017.
Lofton, whose seat happened to be next to mine in the meeting room, said he voted for Owens. Fouts said he didn't.
Lofton told SiriusXM NFL Radio that he was surprised Owens didn't make the cut from the 15 modern-era finalists we considered at the outset of the meeting to the 10 that were then whittled to a final five.
"I saw a special and great player when I watched him," Lofton said. "He is a Hall of Famer in my book."
Fouts disagreed. His reasons concur with mine.
He looked past the statistics, as did I. He looked at the fact that at the height of Owens' career, three teams – the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys – all were willing to let him go. I don't count his stints with the Bills (in 2009) or the Cincinnati Bengals (2010), because his skills had declined by then. For the Bills, he was more of a gimmick to try and drum up ticket sales than a true solution to help make the team better.
But Owens' inability to stick with the Niners, Eagles, and Cowboys is significant because it goes to the heart of the problem that numerous people with whom I have spoken about him have: He was a horrible teammate.
He was a divisive force that the people who ran those teams had no problem cutting loose. I've heard critics say there were extenuating contractual circumstances behind Owens' departures, but I don't buy that for a second. If you want to keep a player, you find a way to keep him. The job security of coaches and GMs is far too tenuous to jeopardize by saying goodbye to a great player that can help you win. You don't make those moves unless there is something else that leads you to believe he is doing more to hurt than help.
The common assessment of Owens was that his greatness was more than offset by the way he consistently pulled apart the fabric of each of those teams.
Before we vote, Hall administrators admonish us to consider only what takes place within the confines of the field. But those white lines, as they acknowledge, can extend to the locker room and the meeting rooms and anywhere else that football-related activity takes place.
That is where Hall-of-Famers, such as Fouts, have their biggest issues with Owens. That is where the many other Hall-of-Famers with whom I spoke about all the finalists told me, to a man, they did not want Owens on their team.
I simply could not ignore that.
If voting for a Hall-of-Famer is strictly about numbers, then a computer could spit out the results. It isn't, because there is so much more to the process. Doing it right takes extensive research, and I am proud to say that the voters invest considerable time and effort to make the best decision possible. There is nothing reckless or careless that goes into what we do.
I'm even prouder to say that, during our nearly nine-hour session (counting brief bathroom and lunch breaks), there is plenty of spirited debate. I am bound by the bylaws of the Hall not to reveal specifics, but I can tell you that the conversation about every candidate is highly detailed and generally balanced. I have always come away from each presentation finding something new to consider.
It might not be a perfect system. Lord knows, we aren't perfect as voters. Lord knows, the candidates aren't perfect, either.
But I firmly believe that each year, we manage to deliver individuals worthy of enshrinement, even though we all don't agree on that list.
There was disagreement on Owens. And there has been plenty of public backlash that I fully expected primarily, if not only, because of his numbers.
“I think his numbers are very worthy," Fouts said while appearing on The Midday 180 radio show in Nashville. "But, again, on the other side of it, I think his actions on and off the field, on the sidelines, in the locker room, and the fact he played for so many teams and was such a great player, the question that comes back to me is if he was such a great player, why did so many of those teams get rid of him?
"And I think we all know the answers."
Whether everyone wants to admit as much, we do. We definitely do.