Rock covers the New York Giants. Previously covered college sports and outdoors.
There has been a lot of talk this week about Odell Beckham Jr. “learning” from his recent experiences. He’s a 23-year-old kid with the world wide open to him, and he is going to take some missteps. Sunday was an ugly example of that, and if it is a teachable moment, as the Giants think it will be — and Beckham, in his statements, said it will be — perhaps it will help him down the road.
But he’s not the only one who is trying to figure this out as he goes along.
The Giants, too, are being educated in how to deal with this kind of a star. They’ve never had anyone like Beckham, as Tom Coughlin alluded to earlier in the week.
“There are qualities that Odell Beckham, this young man, brings to this football team the likes of which I’ve never seen,” he said on Monday, the day after Beckham went from everyone’s favorite playmaker to the most despised player in the league. “He has great energy, he has great enthusiasm, he gives great effort, he does it literally every day that he walks out on the field. He is an emotional young man. He wears his emotions on his sleeve.”
Coughlin has never seen it, so he has to learn how to harness it — before it burns the entire place down.
The Giants have had temperamental players in their recent past. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey and even Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora could be handfuls for the coaching staff and the front office. But Beckham’s ability and potential put him above even them, and one of them is in Canton.
He’s not a problem for the Giants in terms of speaking out of turn or going down his own path (yet). His intensity is focused on producing on the field. He is driven to be the best ever. He’s said that and he shows that. His rants on the sideline on Sunday, screaming at teammates about getting their you-know-whats kicked and not caring, spoke more loudly about where he is coming from than the helmet-to-helmet hit on Josh Norman.
The closest comparison may be Lawrence Taylor in terms of transcendent play and off-the-field opportunities. Giants co-owner John Mara saw that arc play out two generations ago and spoke about it briefly last year.
“You would have to go back to 1981 before we were that excited about a rookie coming in and what he could possibly mean to this franchise,” Mara said at the end of last season, when Beckham was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and grabbed the league’s attention with his one-handed catches. “I hesitate to say that because I do not want to put that much pressure on him, but he certainly has brought a lot to this organization.”
But Beckham is a new kind of player in a new kind of world. A social media world. A world in which players have close friends on other teams. A world in which what shoes a guy wears in warmups can be perceived as an invitation to a throwdown. A world in which every heretofore anonymous defensive back wants to get himself on SportsCenter for taking out the king.
He’s the first millennial star for this old-fashioned franchise, and the Giants and their 69-year-old coach seem to be groping to figure out exactly what that means.
Coughlin, as has been documented, commissioned a study of the younger generation of players to see how they think, how they respond and how they can thrive. He can’t treat Beckham with the same tactics he used with Strahan and Tiki Barber and others. They won’t work.
“I think we know how to communicate with him. I don’t think that’s an issue,” Coughlin said on Thursday. “That situation [on Sunday], to be honest, there wasn’t any indication it was coming.”
Maybe there was. Certainly anyone watching the game on television or from the perch of the press box saw it bubbling up from the very first snaps of the game. The signs were there in pregame warmups, punter Brad Wing told us this week.
And now Beckham will have to sit out a game that the Giants need to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive (although there’s a chance they’ll be eliminated by then).
“He loves to play and the sacrifice of the game is going to be extremely meaningful to him,” Coughlin said. “I think the whole experience is going to have an incredible impression on him. He’s going to learn that there is no place on the field for that kind of activity, as I’ve said many times before. It’s a tough lesson, but he’ll learn.”
He’s not the only one who needs to do that.