There are no excuses for Odell Beckham Jr.’s apparent psychotic episode Sunday. None. We’ll start with that.
Suspending him for a game is a joke, yet another thing we can add to the long list of what the NFL has gotten wrong, penciled in above the fact that referees missed his after-the-whistle battery of Josh Norman. And it was battery, too — not an overzealous football play that blurred the lines of an inherently violent game, but a dangerous attack with a weapon that was more criminal than sportsmanlike.
He should have been removed from the game, even if it took league officials seeing what occurred on television and calling the field to order his immediate ejection.
In the aftermath, however, the Giants reportedly investigated a series of pregame taunting incidents that involved several Panthers and possibly even a team official wielding black baseball bats as a show of symbolic force, some literal take on a coaches’ exhortation to “bring the wood.” Or something.
Other reports claimed Beckham was set off by gay slurs aimed at him by Panthers players.
Both behaviors must be stopped by the league immediately.
I needn’t build a case for the latter, since it is self-evident. There is no place for that, anywhere, particularly in the workplace. That is not heat-of-the-moment trash talk amid the action, but offensive taunting during the rote routine of warmups. It clearly creates a hostile working environment for any number of team and league employees. It’s grounds for legal action, in fact.
As to the former, pictures surfaced yesterday of similar antics by both the Raiders and Saints in the past, brandishing baseball bats on the sidelines, as if the whole playing pro football thing wasn’t enough to make them feel tough. Coaches do stuff like this, and some players take to it like children. Such silly motivational tactics must still have some perceived efficacy, hence the training camp t-shirts and sloganeering posters in the weight room.
The line should be drawn at the practice facility, however. Teams can play whatever games they want on their own time, whatever they think they need to do their jobs properly. Jackie Sherrill once had his Mississippi State team observe the castration of a bull before the Texas game. Jack Del Rio put an axe and a tree stump in the Jaguars locker room in 2003, only to have punter Chris Hanson nearly hack his foot off trying to live their mantra of “Keep Chopping Wood.”
But when the buses roll for the stadium on game day, the NFL needs to make sure all that stays back in a team’s building.
It’s just a bad look for a league ostensibly trying to manage its conflicted image, already involved in cynical attempts to make the sport appear less brutal than it actually is. Beckham’s unhinged behavior was an embarrassment in and of itself, but the pregame clown show is also completely unnecessary. This isn’t the run-up to WrestleMania.
Teams do the Ray Lewis screaming/dancing thing before kickoff, which is far from taunting the opponent while everybody’s stretching. Rugby’s New Zealand All Blacks have their Maori Haka before international events, but that’s an accepted, anthemic part of the pageantry.
This is the same NFL that micromanages uniforms, has curtailed written messages on eye-black and nasal strips and even limited excessive use of face paint. Time to end the props, now, before we have teams waving swords and crossbows, or spraying themselves with chrome like post-apocalyptic War Boys.
So they can go ahead and rev themselves up however they want — listen to music, slam their heads against the lockers, snort smelling salts and punch each other in the chest, and maybe even listen to whatever coach is saying.
But please, kids, leave your toys at home.