The Internet can be a vicious place. That fact rings especially true for outward personalities that commonly find themselves in the public eye. One somewhat foolish move, and the clowning begins. If your reputation was shaky before you even enter the ringer, there’s no telling what it will look like on the way out.
Maybe New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham should have been more aware of these ramifications before he broke down in an emotional outburst on the sidelines during Sunday’s showdown with nemesis Josh Norman and the Washington Redskins, but he wasn’t. Now, he’s the laughing stock of the league after a Vine of him angrily smashing a kicking net with his helmet, failing and taking a shot from that same kicking net to the head went mega-viral. On top of that, he was crowned the loser of his rematch with Norman as the Redskins squeaked out a 29-27 win. His status as the next great diva receiver may have ascended even higher.
It was a funny Vine, but enough is enough. I have waited a while to put this on the table, and now is the perfect time. This is my defense of Odell Beckham.
Let’s get two matters out of the way before we begin, because they would hang over my arguments dangerously otherwise. One: I am a huge fan of the New York Giants, although I will try my very best to avoid bias. It’s not easy. But this means my opinion must be taken with a rather hefty grain of salt. I just wanted to add a disclaimer.
Two: I do not, of course, support Beckham’s dirty cheap shot on Norman last season when the two faced off in a controversial matchup that ended with Beckham receiving a one-game suspension. Although both players were antagonizing each other throughout that game, that was an unacceptable and dangerous move, and the following criticism of that particular move by Beckham was well deserved.
Considering his status as the 12th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, we knew that Beckham would be good, but we didn’t know he would be this good. He missed the first four games of his rookie season with an injury, but he began to produce as soon as he hit the field, grabbing four passes for 44 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. Two weeks later, two touchdown grabs against the Dallas Cowboys. The week after that, 156 yards against Indianapolis, followed by 108 yards against one of the Seattle Seahawks’ elite set of defensive backs.
These are not earth-shattering numbers, but they were certainly strong enough to put him firmly on the NFL map. The night he truly entered the public consciousness was Nov. 23 of that 2014 season, the seventh game of Beckham’s professional career, and a rematch against those hated Cowboys. On that night, Beckham made one of the greatest catches in football history, snagging an airborne football with only a few fingers on his right hand while being tossed to the ground by Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr, and tumbling backwards into the end zone for an incredible touchdown.
The Giants eventually lost 31-28, but Beckham was now firmly entrenched in the media spin cycle, and he finished the season with an equally impressive display of talent: 50 catches for 696 yards and seven touchdowns in five games. His season totals – 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, in just 12 games – all set Giants rookie records, and ranked highly in the NFL’s all-time rookie record book.
This shocking statistical prowess, combined with his flair for on-field celebration, his distinct good looks and his starting spot on a team that plays in the nation’s largest media market was an incredible recipe for attention. With attention comes doubters and haters, a byproduct of jealousy. The one-handed catch, and the endless airplay it received, did not help Beckham in that regard.
Those opposed to the style of Odell Beckham were now ants at a particularly appealing picnic, just waiting for a morsel to drop. Maybe they were missing something in their lives: an NFL wide receiver that was a complete diva, defined here as a selfish, egotistical showoff who is easy to unabashedly hate. With the NFL’s various social media accounts and marketing pushes pumping Beckham up relentlessly as the league’s new darling, and in the Big Apple to boot, there was a potential new diva in play.
As he danced his way through the 2015 offseason, racking up endorsement deals along the way, Beckham made it exceedingly clear that his main goal was to win. Not to dominate “SportsCenter” with incredible catches, not to become the next great athlete fashion icon, and certainly not to fill up his own personal stat sheet; he wanted to win games, and he also liked to have fun doing it.
“I’ve never won a championship in my life, not one that mattered so much,” Beckham said the summer after his rookie season. “I want that. Winning the games is what matters.”
But now the eyes of the league were upon him and his immense skills, and as the St. Louis Rams showed in a contentious game late in that 2014 season, he could be riled up by some physical play. “Strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict … breeds catastrophe,” the superhero Vision said in the Marvel comic book film “Captain America: Civil War,” and although that may be an odd source to draw from, it’s both poetic and somewhat relevant to this situation. Stick with me.
As Beckham powered his way through his sophomore season in 2015, crushing more records and snatching more impossible grabs, there was a very difficult challenge building in his path. That was the Carolina Panthers and their star cornerback Josh Norman, who were cruising through an undefeated season on the power of moxie and some excellent players. Norman was one of best players on the team, a former fifth-round pick on his way to his first Pro Bowl, and an eventual first-team All-Pro selection to boot. On top of that, he was a big talker, and was chomping at the bit to get the chance to shut down Beckham.
The Panthers began the mind games pregame, carrying baseball bats around the field and allegedly threatening Beckham. The game became extremely combative and eventually controversial, with Norman and Beckham exchanging loose punches before Beckham delivered the aforementioned head shot that as I mentioned before, I do not condone.
At the end of the day, Carolina picked up the win, fighting off a late Giants comeback that included a game-tying touchdown catch by Beckham with 1:46 remaining in the game. Beckham’s relatively successful statistical day against Norman was forgotten. The Panthers called for a suspension for the head shot, and got one. The ants got their fallen potato chip.
The talk all week, and all offseason, only caused the dark cloud surrounding Beckham to swell up even larger. He’s dirty. He’s whiny. He plays outside of the confines of the rules. All these things were true, as it relates to one occasion, an occasion in which he was clearly antagonized by a direct opponent looking to get under his skin. Norman escaped unscathed by the media, because he didn’t deliver the money shot. He pushed, shoved and allegedly threw homophobic slurs at Beckham, before taking his win and leaving.
“I don’t think I’m going to change the way that I play, but I think I’ll change the actions that were on the field that Sunday,” Beckham said a week and a half after the fateful game, after serving his one-game suspension. “It’s not what we should be doing, it’s not what I would want to represent the Giants as, and, most importantly, it’s not something that I would want the kids looking up to and learning from me that way.”
But the damage was done, and Beckham retreated into the offseason as public enemy No. 1. He returned for this 2016 season locked and loaded, telling Mike Francesa “For me football is everything,” and that “all that stuff that goes on outside of football is a distraction.” We’ve seen the videos of him dancing at Drake’s house, seeing how much fun he’s having, and we know that isn’t entirely true.
The war of words between Beckham and Norman did extend into the offseason, with Beckham saying their altercation made Norman relevant, and Norman warning that other players in the league now had hits out on Beckham. Now, if Norman is to be believed, one of those statements is certainly more dangerous than the other. I’ll let you decide.
And finally, we come to the Sunday’s rematch between Beckham and Norman, now of the Washington Redskins, in which Beckham threw his mini tantrum on the sideline that ended in a welt from a kicking net and pictures of him crying entering the meme machine for years to come. Beckham, who lost the game again (although that certainly wasn’t his fault), will take the heat for his sideline antics. He already is taking it. That’s partly why we’re here in the first place.
Sunday’s game was a much cleaner game on the field. Beckham and Norman did some shoving, but that’s nothing. In fact, the most extracurricular action of the day came from Norman, who re-enacted a scene from “Dirty Dancing” by catching Beckham in the air, carrying him a few yards, and dropping him right next to an official. Nothing to get upset about, right?
Or maybe not. Beckham told reporters after the game that the officials came up to him before the game and said “If you do anything, we’re throwing you of the game.” There were seemingly no double standards in place, because Norman didn’t draw so much as a flag for his impromptu ballerina routine.
Instead, Beckham kept his fiery attitude confined to himself, and let it out on nothing in particular, except an inanimate object. His outburst on the sideline was nothing more than a show of frustration, a display of his passion for winning the game, which was prompted by an unfortunate Eli Manning interception just minutes before. That’s a huge improvement on last time out, and he was still clowned for it. He was actually teased and criticized for showing his emotions. He’s dealt with that throughout his career, and that definitely comes with the territory of playing such a traditionally masculine, testosterone-fueled sport, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
Are we really doing this? It’s not like this was correlated with poor performance on the field. Beckham killed Norman; according to ESPN Stats & Info, Norman lined up across Beckham on 53 plays, and on those plays, Beckham recorded six catches for 107 yards on nine targets. That’s pretty good considering Norman had safety help over the top for most of the afternoon. To say that Norman won the battle by getting into his head was ridiculous. Washington won the game, but that wasn’t because of their star cornerback. Josh Norman cannot cover Odell Beckham one-on-one. No one can. I know my bias is speaking here, but that’s the truth.
I know the diva talk is going to begin again, and Sunday is another notch in that belt. Detractors are going to call Beckham selfish, but that’s simply not true. He’s as supportive of his teammates as anyone, and he doesn’t demand the ball. He celebrated gleefully when Giants rookie Sterling Shepard caught his first career touchdown a few weeks ago, and commemorated embattled Giants receiver Victor Cruz’s first touchdown back from a devastating knee injury by miming a photograph. As stated before, he just wants to win, and he also likes to see his friends succeed.
Of course, his competitive temper, which has fueled him to a number of excellent individual performances, is also his worst enemy. The hit on Norman last year was very bad. He was just fined last week for a blindside block on Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro. Savvy opponents will turn his anger loose, and use that against him, and he needs to improve on that aspect of himself. There is also the matter of player safety at stake here.
This is not a clean-cut situation. Beckham is not perfect, and I am not making the case that he is. Defending him becomes harder by the day. But the narrative of him as the terrifying, self-centered ball of uncontrollable anger is spiraling out of control. He is clearly being provoked into these actions, and he is a young player who hasn’t fully matured yet. With the head he has on his shoulders, there is a good chance that he does mature. If not, we can revisit this.
But right now, he’s under the spotlight. When the spotlight is shining, every action burns that much harder. Beckham’s inherently flamboyant nature does not help him here either. When Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who is still adding people to his personal hit list at 37 years old, does something dirty, it’s toughness. When Beckham does something dirty, it’s an act of immaturity by an emotional baby. Such is the culture of professional football.
The roller coaster of watching Odell Beckham will likely continue, especially for Giants fans. This may unfortunately hurt his status as one of the league’s very best players, and certainly one of its most electrifying ones to watch. This concludes my defense. I need to go wash my Beckham jersey, which if wasn’t clear already, I do own.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.