The early assessment of the situation was easy and clear. Odell Beckham lost his cool, his mind, and the game. For a wide receiver to earn three personal foul penalties is unheard of, and the visuals told the story. A dangerous helmet-to-helmet retaliation, a punch to the side of the head. The NFL’s decision to suspend the Giants playmaker seemed obvious and understandable.
The early assessment though, is not always accurate. I jumped to the same conclusion, and hammered Beckham and the Giants on last night’s show. But the more I picked it apart, the more I looked at the catcalls from Josh Norman and the reaction from the Giants, the more I wondered how much was beneath the surface. This feels like an NFL iceberg. Ten percent is obvious to the eye. Ninety percent is the story beneath the surface.
Beckham is flamboyant, charismatic, and the toast of Madison Avenue. He plays in New York City, has a million viral videos, dyed blonde hair, and the cameras breathlessly trailing him for every pregame warm-up. Norman is unknown nationally, an excellent defensive back for one of the game’s best defenses. But let’s face it, we don’t pay much attention to corners unless they yell at Erin Andrews.
So maybe there was just standard resentment from Norman and the Panthers towards a guy who is an NFL darling. Maybe Carolina simply saw this as a way to mark their territory like cats. The Panthers moved to an incredible 14-0, while beating up (and getting into the head) of one of the league’s best players.
But maybe there was something far more personal about it. Norman tweeted some pretty damning emojis after the game toward Beckham. A dancing lady, a bikini, a princess crown, high heels, handbag, and a baby bottle. Cortland Finnegan had even more pointed commentary for Beckham: “He may have something in his blood, you know. Maybe it’s female related. That’s the only thing I could think of.”
Norman crowed: “If you’re gonna be Michael Jackson and go around and dance, and play, and do all that other stuff, and not be a football player… it goes to show. I hope I pulled back the mask. I hope I pulled back the face of who he really is.”
The message was clear from the Panthers. Beckham wasn’t a man, he wasn’t a real football player. He was less than that, and he wasn’t who he appeared he was. Connecting the dots to him being a princess, wearing a mask, and having a problem that was “female related” has very obvious connotations. The Panthers also wielded a black baseball bat in warmups before the game, reportedly pointing it at Beckham, and chirping they would “end his career.”
The whole episode is even more bizarre because Tom Coughlin never publicly reprimanded Beckham, nor benched him in the middle of his meltdown. This is a coach who nearly ripped the jugular out of Matt Dodge’s throat on the sideline for punting to Desean Jackson. But when asked about Beckham, Coughlin claims he didn’t even realize he drew all those flags. After the game the coach said he doesn’t defend the actions, but will always support the player and person Beckham is. Eli Manning told WFAN he was actually impressed with how long Beckham kept his cool, and asked him in the huddle, “Hey, are you alright?”
Are the two leaders of the Giants completely blind, or did they view it as Beckham understandably defending himself against vicious, personal attacks all game long?
Look, no matter what the backstory is, Beckham hurt his team by completely losing himself in his own emotions. This wasn’t the first time he was trash-talked on the field. Now knowing his reaction, this certainly won’t be the last. The Panthers won the battle and the war. They’ll have homefield in the playoffs, and a chance to become NFL immortals. The Giants are likely to be watching from home yet again.
But I made the same mistake yesterday that most of the football world did. Beckham reacted. Beckham was flagged. The Giants excused it. It was symptomatic of the franchise’s lost season. But the story is usually deeper, especially when you step back and parse through all of it. The iceberg. We’re aware of just the tip of it, but in this case there’s clearly much more.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.