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Receiver Ran Into Trouble on Familiar Turf

November 09, 2005|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The swirl surrounding Terrell Owens and his suspension by the Philadelphia Eagles started with an interview done by a college freshman.

Graham Bensinger, 19, was a high school sophomore when he approached Owens for an interview at a charity basketball game in 2003. Owens has since been interviewed two or three times a year on Bensinger's Internet radio show.

When Owens agreed to have Bensinger speak with him at his Moorestown, N.J., home last Thursday, the Syracuse student pitched the interview to ESPN.com.

They talked for an hour. Plans called for Owens' comments to run only on ESPN.com, in video and written form. But because Owens criticized the Eagles for not making a bigger deal about his 100th touchdown reception, and agreed with Michael Irvin's earlier contention on ESPN that the Eagles might be undefeated if Brett Favre were their quarterback, four to five minutes were used on that night's "SportsCenter."

Those remarks and Owens' refusal to apologize directly to the team, as well as a training-room fight with former Eagle Hugh Douglas a day before the interview and other previous transgressions, led to Owens' suspension Monday.

Owens complained that his comments had been taken out of context, and former Eagle Freddie Mitchell contended on Dan Patrick's ESPN radio show Tuesday that the tape had been doctored.

Dennis Deninger, an ESPN.com senior coordinating editor, denied Mitchell's claim.

"No offense, but I doubt Mr. Mitchell is an audio expert," Deninger said Tuesday. "But I can assure you, the tapes were not doctored in any way. Credibility is our foremost concern."

Asked about Owens' charges that his comments were taken out of context, Deninger said, "As with any story we do, we use the most interesting parts."

An ESPN spokesman said, "We stand by the editorial decisions of ESPN.com and 'SportsCenter.' "

Bensinger, in a telephone interview from his dormitory room Tuesday, said he could "sense where [Owens'] frustration comes from. He welcomed us into his house, openly spoke to me for an hour covering every topic. But unfortunately only four or five minutes of the most controversial remarks were used."

A transcript of most of the interview, along with about 25 minutes of video, is now available on ESPN.com.

Bensinger said he has not talked with Owens since the interview aired.

He began doing an Internet radio show when he was in the eighth grade in St. Louis. He met Owens during Super Bowl week in San Diego in 2003. Bensinger was there as a correspondent for a St. Louis radio station after being invited by former San Diego mayor Roger Hedgecock, who has a radio show.

"I was at a celebrity basketball game that Terrell was playing in and I asked him for an interview at a future date," Bensinger said.

Owens agreed to do it and since then has been on Bensinger's radio show two or three times a year.

Bensinger said he got into broadcasting at such a young age because as a little kid he loved getting autographs from famous athletes.

"I realized it wasn't just getting the autographs that appealed to me, but rather meeting the athletes and engaging them in conversations," he said. "The next level would be getting to interview them."

Bensinger had already made an impression with ESPN because of other interviews he had landed. He did one with O.J. Simpson in August.

Said ESPN's Deninger: "Graham is an enterprising young man."

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