Owens: “I think people change, but the media, they never allowed me to change. They never allowed me to be a better person.” (Ed Reinke/AP)

A wide receiver who’s elite physical talents were frequently overshadowed by malcontent and locker room friction, Owens continued to cling to his dwindling fame by attempting a comeback during the 2011 NFL season. The effort failed, but last week, the 38-year-old announced he would be returning to the field after all, as a player and part owner of the Indoor Football League’s Allen Wranglers — as if to say, “Hey, America! I’m still here! Pay attention to me!”

And while Owens’s 15-year NFL odyssey left carnage in its wake, the lingering effects on his own psyche outweigh any spat with a quarterback or argument with a coach.

In a revealing and extensive interview that runs in the February edition of GQ Magazine , Owens opened up about the frustrations of trying to remake his image in a league full of second chances.

Now when friends text the five-time All Pro asking where he is, Owens responds: “I’M IN HELL.”

“I think people change, but the media, they never allowed me to change,” he said. “They never allowed me to be a better person.”

Owens believes his past actions — including routinely over-the-top touchdown celebrations — have owners wary of bringing him back into the league he once dominated. But Owens feels he’s getting the wrong kind of special treatment.

“In terms of what I said, well, my grandma brought me up to be honest,” Owens said. “And in terms of what I did, well, I will tell you this, and you will never be able to convince me otherwise, if another player who had performed as well as I have on the field had done those same things, they would shake their little heads and say, ‘You gotta admire his enthusiasm,’ or, ‘Just look at how much he loves the game!’ He’d be a hero.”

A hero, Terrell Owens is not. A first-ballot Hall of Fame selection? Quite possibly. With 15,934 career receiving yards and 153 touchdowns, Owens is second only to Jerry Rice. But statistics won’t help him shed the image that continues to overshadow his play on the field.

“You can’t live down the destruction of all those years,” one NFL executive told GQ. “With T.O., no matter how brilliant he can be on the field, the dark side is always lurking. You don’t know which T.O. you’re going to get, and no one is comfortable risking that.”

Believe it or not, Owens told GQ nearly all of the $80 million he made during his career is gone — one more reason for his desperate entry into IFL ownership. From foolhardy real estate investments to a $2 million contribution to a failed Alabama entertainment complex, Owens allowed others to invest his money — most of which he never saw again.

“In the end, they just basically stole from me,” said Owens, who pays $44,600 monthly in child support for the four children he had with four different women.

But while money may be a motivating factor, Owens comes off as desperately wanting to get back in the game that made him a household name. Whether a call from an NFL team ever comes is anyone’s guess.

I’m ready,” Owens said. “They may not be ready for me, but me, I’m ready.”

More from Washington Post Sports:

Terrell Owens returning to football with IFL’s Allen Wranglers

T.O. works out, but no NFL teams show up

Drew Rosenhaus: Owens is “100% healthy & ready to play right now!”

Owens says he could return to NFL in ‘a month or less’