OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) – Deion Sanders doesn’t have an NFL pregame show as a platform anymore, so he used his position as safety for the Baltimore Ravens to jump to the defense of Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens.

Irvin was arrested Sunday on an outstanding warrant for an unpaid speeding ticket in Irving, Texas, but was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after police found a marijuana pipe in his vehicle.

Irvin, a former receiver with the Dallas Cowboys, contended that he took the pipe from a friend who showed up at his house on Thanksgiving, put it in his car and planned to dispose of it later but forgot.

Speaking in front of his locker Wednesday, Sanders declared, “Michael Irvin is totally innocent. I know the whole situation, and it isn’t what it seemed. From his history, we were able to jump to conclusions and we shouldn’t do that at all times. This is a country that says we’re innocent until proven guilty, but it seems like it’s the direct opposite.

In 1996, Irvin pleaded no contest to felony cocaine possession in exchange for four years of deferred probation, a $10,000 fine and dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. He also was arrested on drug possession charges in 2000, but they were later dropped.

“He’s my buddy. He’s my friend,” Sanders said of Irvin. “We’ve got to back each other in tough times, and this is a tough time for he and his family. He was really trying to look out for one of his friends.”

Sanders also criticized the Philadelphia Eagles for suspending the outspoken Owens for four games and then ordering him to stay away from the team for the rest of the season.

“I feel bad for T.O. It’s not right. Just because a guy won’t say he’s sorry, he’s out of the game of football for the season,” Sanders said. “It’s like someone working a job 9 to 5 and they don’t apologize to their boss, they’re fired. There are so many things that I don’t like about it.”

A man should be able to work and make an honest living and do what he loves to do.

“Yeah, he may have made a mistake and said something about his quarterback but so what? Let’s move on. People talk about people everyday, but that doesn’t mean you should be able to take away my livelihood. He’s a football player, let him play football.”

Sanders believes the Eagles began to lose faith in Owens when the receiver asked for a new contract before this season. Owens’ criticism of quarterback Donovan McNabb, and his failure to offer a quick apology added to the problem.

“T.O. wasn’t a problem until he asked for his money,” Sanders said.

AP-ES-11-30-05 1628EST


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