One of the most anticipated matchups from this past Sunday featured the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants. The undefeated streak was once again on the line, and the Giants were pressing to make a playoff push in the muddled NFC East. The game also featured a matchup between the best cornerback in the league and one of the most electrifying receivers alive. It was a battle that did not disappoint.
By now you know what happened. Words were said. Bats were swung. Guys were hit. Passes were deflected. A touchdown was scored. And in the end, Norman’s Panthers kept their perfect record intact while the Giants saw their post season hopes fade to black.
Then ODB got suspended for a flagrant hit on Norman’s skull and all hell broke lose.
People have been screaming like crazy about this confrontation all week long making it difficult for anyone to really get a unique angle on the subject. Was Odell right? Did Norman deserve it? Why on earth would the NFL appeal it right in the midst of Will Smith’s movie “Concussion” making emphatic rounds across the country?
My concern has less to do with the strange legal process the NFL has for these matters. Beckham made a bee-line for Norman’s head and tried to hurt a defenseless player. You can’t argue against it. The evidence is so blatant that this case should be closed before it even opens.
What I’m more concerned about is what led to this outburst in the first place. It’s easy to try and defend Beckham, as Ray Lewis did on Monday Night, by claiming that he’s a 23 year old kid who still has a lot to learn. You know what? If a kid has a lot to learn, then he shouldn’t be earning a million fucking dollars playing professional sports. We give teenagers guns and send them overseas to wage war. “Kids” that age are graduating from college and making adult decisions, or working hard jobs. Beckham doesn’t get to hide behind the façade of a child who’sstill figuring out how to be a citizen of society. He’s an adult and should be treated like someone who is responsible for his decisions.
This by no means that this past Sunday will be the defining point in Odell Beckham’s career. It could be, but it isn’t just yet. More importantly, it’s a reflection of how offensive players feel entitled to a veil of safety that cannot exist completely in a full contact sport like football.
Odell Beckham Jr.is the product of an NFL system that has done everything possible to take the hard edge out of football. I’m not going to sit on my porch with my shotgun and tell you kids to get off my damn lawn because things aren’t the way they were back in my day. I’m in my mid-thirties. I’m old enough to remember a rawer brand of football, and young enough to enjoy the game that’s being played today.
Yet I’m constantly caught in the transition the game is trying to make to protect its image. I was brought up on celebrating plays like Aeneas Williams’ crippling hit on Steve Young. If you had a shot at the quarterback back in those days, you took it. In modern times, you can’t breathe on a quarterback without drawing a flag.
I get it, ok? Guys are getting hurt at a phenomenal rate these days and concussions are a morbid subject because we don’t fully understand the long term ramifications of injuries such as brain trauma the same we understand a torn ACL. The reason I brought up Steve Young is because we see that guy every week on television, commentating and analyzing games in-depth. The guy doesn’t have a problem stringing sentences together the same way that Wes Welker has trouble remembering his own name. And a barrage of concussions ended Steve Young’s career. Williams’ hit was the last straw.
My point isn’t to say that we should ignore player safety, but the league is at a very apparent crossroads in regards to the subject. Guys like Ndamukong Suh are vilified in the modern era because they play the game with a certain edge that was celebrated back in the 80’s and 90’s. Back then, if you took a guy’s head off, you were a hero. These days you’re an asshole.
Until we understand the long term effects of brain trauma, the NFL will continue to do the only thing it can do and skirt the issue as best as it can. The league is born and bred on violence that has to be controlled because players are getting bigger, stronger and faster. As such, the rules have to evolve. We have to protect players as much as possible.
That has to be a two-way street for players on either side of the line of scrimmage, but the onus has directly fallen on defensive players to let up on hits and recognize when an offensive player can’t protect themselves. That’s not entirely fair. You can’t ask a tackler to hit someone as hard as necessary and then point the blame in his direction when he hits him as hard as he can.
What this does is create defensive players who don’t know how to hit players without being penalized, while also breeding offensive players who feel like it’s their god given right to never be hit hard in the first place.
This is why a guy like Odell Beckhamreacts to Josh Norman the way he did on Sunday. Norman didn’t do anything illegal. He was batting ODB in the helmet, violently jamming him at the line and essentially rented space in between his temples for free. He played him as well as any corner can on a star receiver.We have never seen ODB, or many receivers, react the way that he did on Sunday. So why is that?
It might be because we are protecting offensive players to the point that they think any grave injustice on them is a travesty against mankind. The rules state that you can’t hit a defenseless receiver maliciously, and that’s a good rule to have. A lot of receivers are left wide open to hits when they run short crossing routes.
But these rules also generate a sense of self entitlement, as if you’re not supposed to get hit at all when you touch a football. When Rob Gronkowski went down with a knee bruise against the Broncos this year, it was because the secondary players were flying at his knees. It was only a matter of time before Gronk was getting carted off the field. As Brady said in the post-game, defensive players don’t have a choice; they have to go low or a penalty and fine will ensue. It’s an impossible situation that’s breeding a softer player who is trying to game the rules in their favor much in the same way soccer players flop. Yeah, I went there.
Think about it. Quarterbacks will constantly call for penalties when a player accidentally brushes their helmet even though it doesn’t cause any damage. Receivers are always yanking imaginary flags out of their pants when they’re covered too well during an incomplete pass. We’re breeding a type of football player that believes they have the right to play the game without being bothered by anyone.
So it’s not unsurprising that ODB reacted to the way Norman was harassing him on Sunday. The guy has been allowed to run free for his two-year career because the league’s rules allow him to do so. It’s nearly impossible to be celebrated as a shutdown corner in the way Melvin Blount was because you’ll get called for playing the game “too hard”.
So was Norman at fault? I don’t think so. The whole thing about him coming out in the pregame with a bat has been blown out of proportion since it’s a way for the Panthers to commemorate their fallen cornerback, Bene Benwikere. The fact that Norman refers to himself as “Batman” should’ve made the whole incident funnier. Were the Panthers yelling slurs at Beckham? There’s no concrete evidence. So what if they were? I can’t drive downtown without being called something offensive these days. You don’t see me running to the cops asking for some guy with a license plate to be arrested.
Instead the responsibility falls on Beckham to do what any grown ass man would do: ignore it and play your game. Trash talk is a part ofsports, even if fewer subjects are being tolerated. Getting hit is an inherent element of football even if the NFL is attempting to cut down on the risks involved.
The fact that Beckham went head hunting on a defenseless player from 15 yards away is as malicious as this game gets. It was as dirty as the hits that made Rodney Harrison famous, when he’d come crashing in on a receiver well after he was down by contact. By the way, back then, those hits were just part of the game and that guy is a celebrated television personality now.
There’s lots that the NFL can do to make the game safer. They can impose a “wrap” rule where the tackler has to make an effort to bring the player to the ground much in the same way rugby does. It would kybosh the torpedo hits which could end a guy’s career. They can continue to educate players on the protocols for concussions, holding them and their team’s medical staff responsible for diagnosing on-field hits. A lot of other sports like rugby, hockey and MMA do this to a successful degree. There’s no reason that the NFL can’t follow suit.
Instead the league is designing a set of rules that inhibit defenders from tackling and handling offensive players in any way. In the process, they’re producing players like Odell Beckham Jr. who feel like it’s their right to play the game unabated. Now they go head hunting when a corner does his job to perfection.
There is absolutely no way that Odell Beckham Jr. should win his appeal and play this Sunday when the Giants visit Minnesota with their playoff lives at stake. It flies against everything that they’re trying to promote in regards to player safety. At the same time, it creates a bipolar duality in regards to how offensive players and defenders should be treated.
This isn’t about whether Beckham was harassed inappropriately or whether Norman pushed the envelope too far. This is about a player who was attacked on-field with an illegal hit that deserves the strictest punishment the league is allowed to hand down. If the NFL grants Odell Beckham Jr. his appeal, it will simply continue the sense of entitlement that receivers and quarterbacks feel they deserve when it comes to the rules of contact. It will push the game further from the roots it has grown from.
There is more at stake here than Odell Beckham Jr. playing in the championship week of fantasy football with the Giants’ playoff hopes hanging in the balance. More so this is an opportunity for the league to remind players and fans that football is a hard game that demands a responsible reaction to the adversities it presents.
A ruling in favor of Odell Beckham Jr. would betray the very fabric that this game was stitched upon, and it would fly in the face of everything the NFL is doing to try and protect its players on both sides of the field. In the end, you have to be able to take a hit and respond in the best way possible.
And that is perhaps the greatest lesson that contact sports like football present anyone who has played them: it’s not how hard you get hit or how badly you are treated. The most important element remains how you react to it.