Odell Beckham controversy: How it shows the NFL's double standard

The late suspension of the New York Giants' Odell Beckham for unnecessary roughness in Sunday's game highlights the NFL's contradictory image problem. 

Julie Jacobson/AP
A referee, left, separates New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) and Carolina Panthers' Josh Norman (24) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in East Rutherford, N.J.

The National Football League (NFL) has issued a one-game suspension for New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., in addition to a $52,529 fine, after the 23-year-old used excessive force in Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers' Josh Norman.

“At numerous times during yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, your actions placed a fellow player at unnecessary risk … and clearly did not represent the high standards of sportsmanship expected,” NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks wrote to Beckham on Monday. 

The controversy surrounding Beckham’s on-field conduct and the NFL’s delayed yet stern response serves to demonstrate the league’s contradictory image problem. While some emphasize a "boys will be boys" mentality, others criticize the NFL’s apathy towards violence.

“The competitive nature of the game is one reason that people love to watch football,” says former NFL player turned media analyst Maurice Jones-Drew. “It’s great that the league is making the game safer and trying to protect players, but that doesn’t change the fact that these types of hits and fights will happen when alpha dogs are battling for a victory. It’s part of the game.” 

And while Giants head coach Tom Coughlin expressed some disappointment in his player after the game, he and some of Beckham's New York teammates continued to support the wide receiver. 

“I will not defend his actions yesterday because they were wrong … But I will defend the young man, the quality of the person, I will defend him as long as I am able,” Coughlin told reporters Monday. 

“Norman moved his head,” said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. “Odell didn’t try to hit him helmet to helmet intentionally.” 

“He cried a little bit,” said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, referring to Norman. “I didn’t think that was really necessary. I think Odell took the high road, and I’m proud of him for that.”

Even as Beckham becomes the first New York Giant ever to be suspended for on-field conduct, he defended his actions after the game. 

“We are out there playing football,” he said. “We are competing. You are a competitor. I’m a competitor. We are always going to go at it.” 

In light of Sunday's Giants-Panthers game, the NFL once again finds itself fighting the same image problem: many see the sport as dangerous and unregulated. 

Commissoner Roger Goodell has promised fans and players that the league takes safety seriously through various efforts such as moving up the kickoff line and penalizing hits to the head. In 2012, Goodell pledged a $30 million donation from the league to the National Institutes of Health for brain injury research. 

Many criticized Beckham’s contact Sunday as unacceptable and excessive, blaming the refs for Beckham’s escalating violence during the game and arguing that Beckham should have been ejected.

“The officials let Odell Beckham get away with way too many things early in the game,” former NFL player and coach Tony Dungy tweeted. “Now things are out of hand. Only ejections can help now.” And in response to the NFL’s appropriate discipline discussion Monday, Dungy tweeted: “What about discipline for the 7 officials who let all that go on by not calling penalties in the first Qtr???” 

And while some observers say the officials didn’t do their jobs, others say Coughlin didn’t do his either. Viewers never saw Coughlin reprimanding Beckham for his behavior after multiple personal fouls. 

“The vision of Coughlin’s counseling Beckham might have shown fans that his actions were intolerable,” suggests The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir. And leaving the counseling to the Giants’ receivers coach Sean Ryan “sent the wrong message,” Sandomir adds.

The NFL’s contact policies will be under even more scrutiny later this month, when Will Smith’s new movie, "Concussion," is released on Dec. 25.

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