It certainly sounds as if Odell Beckham Jr. finally gets it, that he understands that the tantrums that have taken center stage have to stop, if for no other reason than the damage he’s doing to his reputation among the people who look up to him. The people who want to be like him.
The Giants’ third-year receiver had yet another flare-up in Monday night’s 24-10 loss to the Vikings, getting hit with an unsportsmanlike-conduct pen alty in a skirmish with cornerback Xavier Rhodes. After an avalanche of criticism for a series of altercations dating to his nasty confrontation with cornerback Josh Norman last December, Beckham has expressed remorse and vowed to at least try to change his behavior.
“I can’t control anything else but what I do,” a contrite Beckham said after Thursday’s practice. “I definitely know I can do a better job at that. The thing that kills me is that I remember when I was a kid. I remember when I looked up to someone and watched them, emulated them. What I’m doing is not something I would want a 6-year-old boy to be out there and learn from.”
It was a noteworthy change in tone from Beckham, who last week suggested that everything was fine after another dust-up on the sideline during a loss to Washington. In the fourth quarter, Beckham was so incensed after Eli Manning threw an interception in the end zone that he ranted on the sideline, slamming his helmet into a kicking net that caromed back into his face.
Beckham suggested last week that he was in “a great place” mentally. There was a sense, however, that he still didn’t understand that his issues were a problem. He seemed defensive. He seemed unmoved by the criticism about his inability to maintain his composure in his first matchup against Norman since last season. But there was something different about his tone this time, something that made it seem as if he gets it.
“Honestly, as funny as it sounds, that’s really all I care about, just being able to have that ability to be a blessing to someone else,” he said. “To be an inspiration. That’s a lot of power. That’s very powerful to me. It feeds my soul. I would never again want to set a bad example for any kids or anything like that. I’m just doing the best to be me.”
He struck the right tone, and taken together with the overwhelming public support he has received from teammates and coaches, Beckham looks ready to move forward with a more mature attitude. The test will be when he gets into a game situation that requires him to rise above the temptation to act out. Then and only then will we get a true gauge of whether his heartfelt words Thursday will translate to changed behavior.
“There’s always going to be this and that, adversity. You just overcome it,” Beckham said. “It’s what I’ve done all my life. The tattoo on my arm says, ‘The ultimate measurement of a man is not where he stands at moments that come at a convenience, but where he stands at times of challenging controversy.’ It’s true. It’s where you stand when your back is against the wall. You just keep pushing and keep fighting.”
Beckham is earning a reputation among fans as the latest me-first wide receiver more consumed about what happens to him than what happens to his team. But to the people who know him best — and to this reporter, who has been around him regularly for more than two years — he does want to do things the right way. He also is one of the most deeply passionate players about the game and has an unceasing desire to be one of the greatest players in football. That much is genuine.
Remember, too, that he’s only 23 years old and has the time to grow into a more temperamentally reliable player. He’s in a good organization that does right by its players, and there is every reason to believe he can develop a better sense of how to comport himself on game day. But if he continues this childish behavior by letting defenders get inside his head so easily, what he said Thursday will amount to empty words. And you have to leave open that possibility, because Beckham seemed equally chastened after his blowups with Norman last year.
In a statement after receiving a one-game suspension for head-butting Norman, Beckham had written: “A lot of kids look up to me as a role model. That is a responsibility I accept and take seriously. Many parents have asked since Sunday what they should say to their children about my conduct. I don’t have the perfect answer, but one thing I can say how I handled myself the other day is an example of how not to conduct yourself.”
Unfortunately for Beckham, that conduct has continued the last two weeks. It’s time he figured this thing out before he turns into the guy that parents don’t want their children to grow up to be.