There is no dispute that the NFL employs double standards, inequities that have proven to be quite profitable. They cater to the majority of fans who prefer scintillating offense opposed to suffocating defense. The crowds gathered in stadiums, sports bars and living rooms want to see teams march down the field or cover it in huge chunks, via long, beautiful passes.
Quarterbacks are bubble-wrapped in protective measures to keep them upright and in throwing position. Linemen routinely get away with holding to give passers more time in the pocket. And wide receivers, who can run unencumbered after five yards, have mastered pick plays better than the Philadelphia Sixers.
Defensive players are in the way, bad guys out to spoil our enjoyment of exciting scoring plays. We don’t mind if they put up some resistance but eventually we want points hung on the scoreboard, preferably through highlight-worthy action that’s routine for players like Odell Beckham Jr.
The Giants’ second-year receiver is the youngest player to grace the cover of a Madden video game. It shows him making a spectacular, one-handed grab like the catch against Dallas that vaulted him to national acclaim last season. Beckham has been a huge star ever since, arguably the league’s most marketable non-quarterback. The numbers support his status as a premier target, especially compared to another high-profile receiver in the NFC East.
In 26 career games, Beckham has eclipsed 140 receiving yards nine times; the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant has surpassed 140 yards receiving eight times in 84 career games.
But regardless of Beckham’s – or any offensive star’s – value in attracting eyeballs, the NFL must look after all players’ safety, no matter which side they play. And I’m certain the outcome would’ve been different in Sunday’s New York-Carolina game if Josh Norman hit Beckham in the head instead of vice versa. There would’ve been an ejection.
Imagine a cornerback running a full 10 yards to launch himself, helmet-to-helmet, into the jaw of an unsuspecting receiver on the periphery of a play that ended. Norman’s head recoiled upon impact, snapping back in brutal fashion. It was the kind of blow often followed by a limp, motionless body dropping to the turf.
Maybe that’s what it would’ve taken, Norman lying prone, for Beckham to be ejected. This wasn’t even a football play, the sort of nasty collision that results naturally in the course of a game. This was an intentional, vindictive, angry assault preceded by a series of scuffles between Beckham and Norman, a premier shutdown corner who frustrated the star and got in his head.
On Monday, the NFL suspended Beckham one game for “multiple violations of safety-related playing rules,” a statement read, including that hit on Norman, who was deemed to be defenseless on the play.
“The guy ran 15 yards down the field, dead-on collision,” Norman told reporters. “The play was all the way on the left side. He came back and was hunting. It was malicious in every way. When they put it on the film, when they go back and they review it, I hope the league takes a better look at it, see what they can do. Because players like that don’t need to be in the league. It’s ridiculous.”
Football is vicious enough when played within the rules. The last thing the league needs, on the eve of “Concussion” opening in theaters nationwide, is a viral video of players using helmets like heat-seeking missiles. Again, if the roles were reversed and Norman had blasted media-darling Beckham in such a manner, the conversation would’ve worked its way from sports talk to daytime TV shows and mainstream news.
The fact that Beckham wasn’t ejected after a blatant head shot is mind-boggling. If that doesn’t get a player tossed, anything should be permissible.
Beckham and Norman went at each other all game, engaging in slapping, body slamming, face grabbing and other assorted extracurriculars. Beckham also punched at cornerback Cortland Finnegan, whose reputation as a dirty player precedes him. Finnegan told reporters he was in “awe” that Beckham was allowed to stay in the game.
“Any other defensive guy would have been thrown out,” he said.
Defenders already have two strikes against them. They not only stifle our fun by thwarting touchdowns, they usually initiate contact and are viewed as the aggressors in attacking quarterbacks, running backs and defenseless receivers. A defender can do everything by the book and still be penalized because he’s entirely liable for making safe hits, even when offensive players alter their body position to brace for impact.
It’s one thing to make playing defense exceedingly difficult in the age of pass-happy football. It’s another to totally disrespect defensive players’ safety, too, doing next-to-nothing as opponents get away with cheap shots and crackbacks.
Officials should’ve sent Beckham to the locker room. The league should make him sit out the Giants’ next game. I understand: Offense sells tickets and draws ratings. But you have to draw the line somewhere.
Even for the other side of the ball.