Eli Manning has handled the pressure cooker of the New York market as well or better than perhaps any pro athlete we’ve ever seen, but even the Giants’ 36-year-old quarterback can’t really offer much advice to Odell Beckham Jr. on the perils of fame.
“I don’t have a whole lot [of advice]. Obviously, [Beckham] is at a whole new level,” Manning cracked after Tuesday’s minicamp practice.
Manning’s fame centers mostly on his two Super Bowl championships and Hall of Fame caliber career, which makes him one of the most recognizable players in sports. Beckham has yet to win a playoff game, but that amazing one-handed catch in 2014 instantaneously catapulted him into the national spotlight and a level of fame and notoriety that has been boosted exponentially. Beckham’s play, his temper, his choice of friends and a social media presence elevate him to celebrity status few have ever achieved.
“I think for all the young guys, it takes a number of years to figure out what you need to do, how to handle things,” Manning said. “I was in the same position years ago and had to go through it, had to mature, had to realize things and understand how to handle everything that’s thrown at you.”
Unlike Beckham, Manning’s transformation into a public figure was seamless, even if it may not have felt that way to him. The son of a famous quarterback, Eli had watched Archie Manning deal with his own fame and applied those lessons to a modern-day career in New York. Beckham is now dealing with a level of attention rarely seen among public figures, no less sports figures.
He stayed away from the Giants’ organized team activities and created a firestorm of controversy that he was somehow making a statement about wanting a new contract, because his $1.8 million salary for 2017 is far below market value. He was photographed with former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel during their workouts on the West Coast — an unmistakably bad look for Beckham to be hanging out with a guy who has done everything wrong with his professional career. He did nothing to tamp down speculation that he was indeed unhappy with his contract, retweeting several people who had suggested his absence in the spring was all about the money.
But Beckham said his self-imposed exile had more to do with trying to find himself. He was h trying to do what general manager Jerry Reese so pointedly suggested the day after Beckham punched a hole in a wall outside the locker room after a playoff loss to the Packers in January: grow up.
The contract stuff will work itself out, and Beckham said he’d love to play his entire career in New York, echoing what team owner John Mara said last week at a fan forum. It’s the maturity part that Beckhm is mostly concerned about.
“You just have time to be able to reflect on life and to be able to learn new things,” he said. “It was a great process for me and I definitely enjoyed it. Growth is something [that happens over] a lifetime. If you stop growing, you’re not progressing in life. We all can grow each and every day.”
He talked about the lessons he learned from the popular self-help book “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” Two of those lessons hit home.
“One of them is you really have to learn to use your words wisely and [another is] don’t take anything personal,” he said. “It helps you grow and really mature into who you are as a person. I’ve gotten a couple of gray hairs, and I feel as if I’m a little wiser.”
Of course, we don’t really know if Beckham has any gray hairs, because most of his hair is bleached blond. And we really won’t know if Beckham has truly matured until he shows it over the course of time. He sounded quite circumspect and settled as he spoke on Tuesday, and you get the sense he understands that he does need to carry himself more responsibly.
A word of caution, though: Beckham has sounded this way before, only to repeat his controversial behavior. After his one-game suspension for launching himself at Panthers cornerback Josh Norman late in the 2015 season, he talked about wanting to be a better example to kids. Then through much of the early part of the 2016 season, he acted out again, drawing penalties and fines for his on-field behavior.
And that punch-out of the wall at Lambeau came after a dreadful playoff effort, which came a week after what turned out to be an ill-fated decision to fly to south Florida and party with some teammates.
Reese and coach Ben McAdoo publicly chided Beckham for his outburst in Green Bay, and said he needed to grow up and be more accountable. Beckham then took some time away from the team to get his mind right, but only time will tell if he truly has.