New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had better clean up his act or run the risk of being labeled the one word no professional athlete wants to be called: Selfish.
Beckham went from catching game winning passes two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, to catching flack for his worst performance (emotionally) of his young career.
I always find it ironic that in a sport where physicality, toughness, and competitive drive are encouraged, we criticize individuals who show “too much.”
In no way, shape, or form am I trying to exonerate Beckham for his actions on Sunday. We all know what we saw. There’s no denying that Beckham was the primary instigator, but Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman deserves an adequate level of blame for the behavior he and Beckham displayed on the field.
What was touted as a matchup of arguably the best receiver in the league against arguably the best cornerback, turned out to be everything we didn’t expect and more. If you’re a fan of UFC or a casual NFL fan, then perhaps seeing the two superstars duke it out was entertaining to you. However, for fans of both respective teams and devout football fans, what you saw on Sunday was hard to watch and a legitimate argument could be made that you feared for both players health and safety.
It was evident that before each player took the field there was a palpable level of animus, seen and felt, that added a heightened level of pressure for both players to perform, even beyond their abilities.
And unfortunately for Beckham, that pressure reared its ugly head when he dropped a wide open touchdown pass, which would have given the Giants a 7-0 lead. After Beckham’s drop he unraveled emotionally, simultaneously causing the Giants to unravel, as well.
Much of the conversation about Sunday’s game centered around the external battle between Beckham vs. Norman. My stance, however, is contrary. The real battle we need to highlight and bring attention to, is the internal battle between good Odell Beckham Jr. and bad Odell Beckham Jr.
For most of his career all we’ve known is good-to-great Odell Beckham Jr. Whether he has been dazzling us with spectacular one-handed catches, entertaining us with end-zone dances or gracing the cover of Madden NFL with his presence, Beckham took the league by storm. The endorsements, the commercials, the coverage. The football world’s ongoing love affair with Beckham is well documented — with his own employer, the NFL, being his biggest cheerleader.
But from time to time we see flashes of bad Beckham. And bad Beckham was in full-force on Sunday when he dropped that touchdown pass, after having cornerback Josh Norman beat. Many allude to that drop as the moment where Beckham became disheveled (mentally). At least that’s what we all thought.
One could surmise Beckham wanted to catch that touchdown pass badly, almost too bad. Beckham was targeted only twice in the first half and dropped both passes (one a potential touchdown). Beckham was involved in several first half scuffles with Norman. Beckham was caught on camera acting like a petulant child; seen trying to trip Norman, wrestling him to the ground, sticking his fingers in Norman’s helmet, and the one we won’t forget, where Beckham led head-first with his helmet and hit Norman. Beckham collected three unnecessary roughness penalties and a fourth penalty for offensive pass interference.
When asked what was his reasoning for not benching Beckham, Giants Coach Tom Coughlin had this to say:
“Because I wanted him to play the game. He had to learn. He’s got to learn at some point how to deal with some things on the field.”
Those advocating for the benching of Beckham, I say this to you: Easier said than done. With his team’s playoff life on the line and potentially his head coaching job, Coughlin was caught in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The Giants found themselves down 35-7 to Cam Newton’s Panthers, in part due to Beckham’s antics, but more so because their defense failed to rise to the occasion.
Turns out Coughlin made a good decision not to bench Beckham as the Giants made an improbable rally, in typical Giants fashion.
How? Because the player Giants fans are accustomed to seeing finally showed up. Trailing by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Beckham took a short pass on third down and turned it into a huge gain. Beckham beat Norman and scored the touchdown that tied the game at 35-35, giving the Giants new life. More good Odell.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton strengthened his argument for becoming the NFL’s Most Valuable Player as he led the Panthers effortlessly into field goal range, allowing kicker Graham Gano to kick the game winning field goal as time expired. The Giants lost 38-35 and just like that Beckham went from villain to hero back to villain.
Every loss needs a scapegoat, and for this particular loss Beckham was that scapegoat. Deservedly so? Debatable.
Perhaps an even bigger loss in the grand scheme of things is Beckham’s one game suspension, which will be in effect this week as the Giants try to keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday in Minnesota.
I refuse to join in the lynch mob that is forming around Beckham, or those trying to character assassinate him. His actions were deplorable, despicable, and selfish. Yes. But to somehow make this an indictment on who he is as a player or who he is as a person would be haphazard.
Beckham has to clean up his act. He has to make a concerted effort to work on his temperament, just as he would work on his football game. He has to remember that football is the ultimate team sport, and that he can’t put his own personal agenda above that of the collective team’s agenda.
Historically, the NFL has proven that no one superstar or individual is above their team or the shield. There’s only one person that can truly stop Odell Beckham Jr., and that’s Odell Beckham Jr.
My message to Beckham is simple: As quickly as it is given to you, it can be taken away even quicker.
Marcus Lamar is a New York-based sports journalist. Read more from his blog at letsaddressthis.blogspot.com Follow him on Twitter @iam_marcuslamar.