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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Odell Beckham Jr.’s suspension, apology are right calls

New York Giants' Odell Bechkam Jr. leaves

New York Giants' Odell Bechkam Jr. leaves NFL headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

In the end, there was no other choice.

Odell Beckham Jr.’s appeal of a one-game suspension for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was rejected in a matter of just a few hours on Wednesday, with appeals officer James Thrash upholding the league’s sanction for Beckham’s hideous overreaction to Norman’s game-long taunts.

Any rendering other than upholding the suspension would have gone against every last morsel of integrity involving the situation. Even if Norman was in the wrong for going overboard in trying to intimidate Beckham, there was simply no justification for Thrash, himself a former NFL receiver, to overturn the penalty.

And if Beckham’s message of contrition conveyed in a statement he released on social media shortly after the suspension was upheld is any indication, the second-year wide receiver understands the magnitude of his actions.

“I work hard to be great and accepting the Blessing of having the physical skills to play at this level brings the responsibility to conduct myself in a certain way on and off the field,” Beckham wrote on Instagram and posted on his Twitter account. “Sportsmanship and respecting the game are as important as blocking, running routes, catching the football. I dropped the ball on sportsmanship on Sunday.”

Beckham then offered apologies to his teammates, the Giants’ organization and NFL fans, a clear indication he has correctly processed the decision and understands his behavior was unacceptable. The hope here is that he learns a valuable lesson in how to conduct himself moving forward, that his wondrous athletic talents will be appreciated strictly on their own merits, and that he can better deal with the inevitable challenges that defenders will send his way.

Beckham is a truly gifted player and a joy to watch on the football field; regardless of what team you care about, his brilliance is to be appreciated. But as Beckham himself now admits, those talents do not come without a responsibility to carry yourself in a reputable and upstanding way.

For three hours on a Sunday afternoon, he did not live up to those responsibilities. And in a regrettable moment of anger, he did to Norman what no football player — or any other athlete from any other sport should ever do. As he launched himself at the cornerback and smashed his own helmet into Norman’s, Beckham surrendered any and all moral high ground.

Thrash, who has surely experienced his own forms of intimidation during a 12-year career with Washington and Philadelphia, considered Beckham’s side of the argument during a hearing that lasted several hours Wednesday. But less than four hours after the meeting concluded, Thrash simply couldn’t ignore the head shot, as well as other over-the-line jostling between the two players, and rendered his verdict.

Guilty as charged.

Beckham was wrong. He knew he was wrong. And so did everyone who saw what happened. Even his coaches and teammates, who made a point of reminding everyone that they support Beckham in general, couldn’t condone what he did. And in the hours between the hearing and the decision, there wasn’t a single player or coach who lobbied for a lifting of the suspension.

Tom Coughlin did make a fair point in saying that Norman was also complicit in most of the extracurricular activity, with the important and notable exception of Beckham’s head shot.

“Everyone is preoccupied with . . . the fact that to depict this as Odell Beckham being wrong, and the only one wrong, is not right,” Coughlin said. “It’s not fair, it’s not justice, it’s not the way it was. If you’re naïve enough to think that way, then you better do some soul-searching yourself. Beckham certainly was wrong, and we said he was wrong from day one. But there were factors involved, starting in pregame, which are well-documented, which indicate that there was an attempt to provoke him. He was provoked, he was out of control, he was wrong, there’s no doubt about it.”

So yes, there were some mitigating circumstances, including an incident described by Giants punter Brad Wing, who said that Panthers safety Marcus Ball, who didn’t play but was on the field in pregame warmups, made threatening remarks to Beckham.

Ball, holding a baseball bat at midfield, stared at Beckham and then got into an argument with the receiver. At one point, according to Wing, Ball said “I’ll be the reason you don’t play today and other days.”

That still doesn’t justify Beckham’s helmet-to-helmet shot at Norman, but it does underscore the intensity of the one-on-one matchup. Even so, Beckham can’t allow himself to be sucked into the vortex of that kind of animosity. He has to be above the fray and concentrate instead of beating Norman on pass patterns, not on his helmet.

He understands that now.

“A lot of kids look up to me as a role model,” he said in a statement issued through the Giants. “That is a responsibility I accept and take seriously. Many of the parents of those kids have asked since Sunday what they should say to their children about my conduct. I don’t have the perfect answer, but I think one thing they can say is how I handled myself the other day is an example of how not to conduct yourself. I displayed poor sportsmanship. And those parents can also say that when you act like that, there are consequences. And I hope to be an example of somebody who did something wrong and learned from it.”

Lesson learned.


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