Odell Beckham Junior is not a villain. He’s not a punk or a thug or a bad guy or a criminal. He doesn’t deserve to be public enemy number one nor does he deserve to be kicked out of the NFL indefinitely. On the heels of his high-profile battle with Josh Norman, the Giants wide receiver is suspended one game while his team clings to fading playoff hopes. Typical of sports fans in this social media age, the reaction is as volatile as Beckham was on the field. Make no mistake, he grabbed the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. He has no one else to blame, but his story doesn’t end here.
Odell Beckham Junior is passionate. He’s theatrical and dynamic, dazzling and demonstrative. His energy is contagious, and his work ethic is admirable. But he’s also immature and flammable, as emotional as he is talented. And his reputation precedes him. How do you throw him off his game? How do you get inside his head? You make him angry. No doubt, the Panthers read the book on Beckham. They pushed every button they could in Week 15, and the young Giants superstar took the bait–hook, line, and sinker.
It was an ugly battle from the start, one that quickly raged out of control. Beckham and Norman spent most of the first half lined up across from one another which gave them plenty of opportunities to push, shove, slap, gouge, grab, bump, and wrestle. Even when they weren’t part of the play called on the field, they were grappling. Extra hits, extra jostling, and extra-curricular activity that crossed the line. At one point, they locked arms, and the Panthers cornerback lifted OBJ off his feet and tossed him to the ground. The receiver later threw several punches at Norman. For some reason, the officials didn’t step in right away. If they warned the coaches and the players, it fell on deaf ears. Carolina’s strategy worked to perfection. Beckham didn’t even register a catch in the first half.
In the third quarter, the individual sparring escalated to another level. Already combative and contentious, the pair was downfield on a run play when Norman slapped OBJ in the head as he ran by. The Giants receiver turned around and furiously sprinted back toward Norman, launching into him with a helmet to helmet hit. Norman retaliated with a knee to Beckham’s head, and then players from both teams had to be separated and pulled apart before the game could resume. OBJ earned three personal fouls for unnecessary roughness in that quarter alone. Norman was flagged once; fellow cornerback Cortland Finnegan was also flagged once.
Beckham finished with a handful of catches and the game-tying touchdown, but his stats were instantly forgotten. He completely lost control for the entire football world to see. The damage was severe. The NFL had no choice but to respond to his reckless and violent actions. They cited multiple incidents that reflected adversely on the league and put him and his opponents at risk for injuries.
My hope is that the NFL denies Beckham’s appeal and forces him to stay away from his teammates and the action in Week 16. I hope he’s humiliated and embarrassed by how he let his emotions get the best of him. I hope the week sabbatical eats him alive, burns him up, and forces him to take a hard look in the mirror. He needs to take responsibility for his actions and recognize that every other team now has a blueprint for neutralizing him.
Painful as it may be, this is Beckham’s chance to learn a hard lesson–to make sure it’s the LAST time he loses his temper and puts himself before his team. He’s only 23, not even 30 games into his pro career, and he’s already setting his own pace. He’s the focus of every defensive game plan, just like Antonio Brown, Megatron, AJ Green, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Dez Bryant. Cornerbacks are always looking for an edge against top receivers, and Beckham has shown his hand. It wasn’t as bad against the Bills, but they accused him of cheap shots and punches earlier this season. Until OBJ refuses to allow defenders to goad him into retaliating and fighting, he’ll see the same tactics, game after game, week after week.
He doesn’t have to take the bait. This suspension can be a turning point. No, Odell Beckham Junior is not a villain, a punk, or a thug. He’s not a lost cause because his story doesn’t end with the Panthers. If he uses this opportunity to mature and to toughen up mentally and physically, his future in the NFL is bright. OBJ can be unstoppable. It’s his choice.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.