Tony Avelar/Associated Press
In an interview with TMZ Sports, TO provided his opinion that he was blackballed from the league following his final season with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010:
“I could’ve still continued to play, but because I was outspoken, because of who I was, I wasn’t allowed the opportunity,” Owens said. “Because I was outspoken. Because of who I was and because of some of the coaches that said things behind closed doors and got in the ears of these owners, that’s why I wasn’t able to really continue on with my career. To me, that was systemic racism.”
Owens later added that he dealt with systemic racism as a member of the Niners while Steve Mariucci was his head coach from 1997-2002: “I experienced it when I was in San Francisco under Coach Mariucci. I experienced it. Trust me, I experienced it.”
Owens declined to expand upon why he felt he was a victim of systemic racism brought on by Mariucci, who is now an NFL Network analyst.
“I just want to be clear, my racism experiences were more with Mariucci and not under the current ownership with the 49ers,” Owens told TMZ on Monday. “Jed York and I along with the current organization has been very gracious and on good terms.”
TO spent his first eight NFL seasons with the 49ers from 1996-2003 before going on to have stints with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Bengals.
The 46-year-old Owens ranks third in NFL history in both career receiving yards (15,934) and receiving touchdowns (153), but he had to wait until his third year of eligibility to get voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame due largely to the narrative that he was a bad teammate and disruptor of teams.
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Owens suggested that the media played a role in pushing that narrative: “There’s a lot of media that portray me a certain way to where now even people think I’m this bad person. That I’m a character, I’m selfish, all these things. But, at the end of the day, I knew who I was and I just kept moving forward.”
Even at the age of 37 in 2010 as a member of the Bengals, Owens was still a highly productive player. He finished with 72 receptions for 983 yards and nine touchdowns that season but never played another regular-season down in the league.
Owens spent some time on the Seattle Seahawks’ roster during the 2012 preseason, but he was released before the regular season began.
Since then, Owens teased NFL comebacks at various times, played in the American Flag Football League briefly and even worked out for CFL teams.
Owens enjoyed one of the greatest NFL careers of any wideout in league history, but perhaps it could have been even better had he been given more opportunities after 2010.
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