How quickly things can change. Nov. 22, 2015, Odell Beckham Jr. was just an above average rookie playing receiver for the New York Giants. Nov. 24, 2015, one three-fingered, 43-yard miracle touchdown, catch-of-the-millennium game later, and Odell Beckham, Jr. is practically a household name. It didn’t stop there. Beckham has been re-writing the National Football League (NFL) record book for early-career milestones. He became the fastest player to reach 3,000 yards, 200 catches, and is on pace to have career numbers comparable to legends like Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. With this rise to stardom came a rise in the spotlight. Suddenly, the 23-year-old athlete was a superstar in the most popular sports league in the United States. It is practically guaranteed at this point that superstar athletes will be under scrutiny with so much exposure in the media as well as the public. Beckham has been no stranger to that lately. These were the headlines just three weeks ago.
Two weeks later, after a 225 yard and two touchdown performance, carrying the Giants on his back to a 27-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the headlines looked a bit different (another screenshot of google news).
How quickly things can change.
Sports are kind of fickle that way. A single player can go from a hero to the goat (not G.O.A.T.) from week to week. A coach can be a genius one season and a fool the next. I understand this, as most sports fans do, but the Beckham case this year seems like an outlier. At the time of the first image, three weeks ago, Beckham dominated the headlines. After a lackluster game against the Minnesota Vikings, only getting 29 yards, and being penalized multiple times during the game, Beckham was not shy about his feelings on the situation, saying that he should realize that he is being watched every play by the referees, more than most players, and that he would be penalized more than most for it. Beckham’s comments caused a wave of criticism, not only from fans and media, but from his quarterback, Eli Manning (who stepped back from these comments at the same time of the second set of headlines were published a week ago), his coach, Ben McAdoo, his general manager, and just about everyone that got an opportunity. He was labeled as a whiner, a diva, selfish, not a team player, uncoachable and a problem. And for what exactly? For a rough game against the number one defense in the NFL this year? For being penalized during one of the most physical corner vs. receiver matchups this writer has ever seen against Xavier Rhodes, a top talent in his own right? For a legitimate criticism of how his “reputation” as an emotional player has caused officials to monitor him more closely than practically anyone else in the league (if you think officials don’t take note of this when officiating a game, you’re honestly as naïve about football as Peter is about the Wolf)? If you see a legitimate problem with any of those things, please, stop me on the quad or anywhere you see me on campus, and point them out, because I don’t see them.
The headlines I saw flooding ESPN, Bleacher Report, Fox Sports, etc., were things such as “Is Odell Beckham Jr. too much too handle?” “Is OBJ’s behavior detrimental to the team?” “Is OBJ a problem for the team?”. Maybe I’m a football or winning fundamentalist, but how can this be even remotely the case? After the milestones I mentioned earlier, why would you not want this guy on your team? He has the potential to score every time he touches the football and suddenly because he happens to play with more emotion than almost anyone in the league (albeit over-the-top emotion at times) this guy has a negative impact on your team? This baffles me as guys like Greg Hardy who allegedly commit domestic assault and are unapologetic still get a job. Guys like Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck who have been accused twice of cheating and are still respected by players and media as two of the greatest in the sport, while this young 23 year old hot-head maximum competitor who legitimately is on pace to be the greatest NFL receiver of all time is scrutinized day in and day out. As if I needed any more evidence, even after OBJ’s monster 225 yard, two touchdown game versus the Ravens, after Beckham scored the 75-yard game-winning touchdown (essentially all on his own), the biggest story the next day was that after the score he was penalized for removing his helmet in celebration. I have never seen a clearer case of unfair scrutiny of a superstar by the media.
Sports media is like a game of telephone, where as long as you say an answer, you win. You could ask any random fan on the street who knew who Odell Beckham Jr. was, and they could probably tell you that he’s a diva or a crybaby, but couldn’t tell you who he played that week, or if he had a good or bad game. Why? Because they heard it from someone who shared their opinion, who heard it from someone who shared their opinion, who read a criticism of Beckham’s comments on the officials in an editorial, who read the comments and the story of the game from an objective writer reporting on the game. This is a culture that needs to change but won’t because people love controversial stories and love their “informed” opinions while also not having the time to watch the tape or look up the statistics to prove it. This is very unfair to the athletes who have their names and reputations determined this way.
I’m not sure whether it’s because Odell Beckham, Jr.’s success is happening so rapidly, because he plays with so much emotion and isn’t afraid of any defender or because he is unafraid to speak his mind, but for some reason, OBJ quickly turned from a fan favorite superstar to a scapegoat for criticism. Maybe it’s the hair.