As Odell Beckham Jr. runs around on the field at Giants training camp this summer, his mind will sometimes flash back to the times last year when he was furthest away from doing so. When, shortly after breaking his ankle and requiring surgery in October, he was unable to walk and would have to crawl up three flights of stairs just to go to bed.
For someone who had spent most of his life able to do whatever he wanted athletically, whose physical gifts had brought him fame and fortune and the promise of even more fortune to come, being reduced to such a lowly status was difficult to grasp.
“I saw my ankle snap and it feels like your world turns upside-down,” Beckham said on Saturday in his first interview with reporters since before the injury. “To be able to walk again and be able to do those things, you’re very appreciative of being able to be back out there [on the field].”
Beckham has returned from the injury to be with the Giants this camp with a new outlook. It’s almost as if he survived a near-death experience, only it wasn’t his life that was nearly taken away by the hit that buckled his ankle on Oct. 8. Beckham came face-to-face with his football mortality, with the prospect of never again being the player he was and the possibility of not playing football ever again.
That’s why he’s here, he said. That’s why he is not holding out for a new contract when other star players in similar situations around the league are. That’s why he’s putting in his time not only during practices but after it, working with Eli Manning on the timing of passes and routes long after the rest of his teammates have left the field.
“I want to make it fun again,” he said. “I want to play football the way I used to play football, just play with that love and that passion.”
It’s been a while since that was possible and a lot has transpired since Beckham was on the field last. It wasn’t only his ankle that fractured, but many parts of his life as well. There have been viral videos and lawsuits and trade talks and plenty of other seismic events in his life. Some were self-inflicted, others brought down upon him.
“I watched relationships close to me [fall apart] and things go wrong and things go sideways,” Beckham said. “It was a lot of pain I went through in the last 10 months.”
At some point recently, though, he made up his mind to put all of that aside.
“Just kind of taking it day by day and trying to make my mindset that every day I wake up I’m going to be happy,” he said. “I’m going to do this right, I’m going to do the very best that I can, and whatever it is, whatever it is that I was doing, just change my mindset. It’s helped me out a lot with everything.
“I used to say all the time: ‘Don’t take it personally,’ and I still took things personally,” he added. “I’ve really gotten that out of my heart to not take anything personally. With doing that it’s left things that I used to worry about out of the equation. Once you can really put that in your heart – don’t take it personally – and you can feel that, it’s a different story.”
So Beckham practices on.
He and his team are negotiating a contract extension with the Giants that will surely make him one of the highest paid players in the NFL. Although Beckham once floated the idea of being the highest paid player and admitted on Saturday that he wouldn’t being so if the Giants agree to it – “I mean, who doesn’t want to get more money? Everybody does,” he said – he noted that he has to be “realistic.”
His ankle, he said, is close to 100 percent.
“I don’t really feel it,” he said. “I don’t think about it much. Or I try not to. It’s still always there.”
He’s excited about the Giants, too, which is a far different team that the one he was carted away from last October. There is a new head coach and general manager, plenty of other new faces, and a new attitude.
“It’s gonna be a good team.”
To that point that even those painful memories of crawling up the stairs now take on a different light. Instead of reflecting on how low he was when those images pop into his consciousness, Beckham said he focuses instead on how high he plans to go from there. He said he would sometimes laugh at and to himself while he pulled himself up those steps.
“‘It’s going to be a hell of a ride to get back to where I was at,’” he recalled saying at the time. “Now I’m here, and there’s still a lot more for me to do, so truly, truly, I’m just thankful that God was able to put me back out there.
“Life always has a funny way of reminding you who’s in control,” he said, “and it’s done that.”