According to Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s state of mind on Sunday, when he received three penalties and targeted Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman with a helmet-to-helmet hit, was deeply affected by pregame threats to end his career and barbs directed at his sexuality. The NFL later suspended Beckham for one game.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter said sources told him a Panthers practice squad player carried a black baseball bat onto the field during the pregame and brandished it toward Beckham; one source claimed the player was Marcus Ball. The Panthers counter that they regularly bring that bat onto the field during warmups as a tradition not pertaining to Beckham. ESPN’s Ian O’Connor added that Giants players on the field heard Panthers defensive players confront Beckham with anti-gay slurs and expletives.
Sanders had a far more detailed version of events. He told Stephen A. Smith, “And this started during the week. Not only did this start during the week, but it went on into the pre-game, when Josh Norman is out on the football field with a baseball bat. Now I’d like you to intervene right there, Stephen A., and let me know: how are you on a football field with a baseball bat?”
Sanders continued that Norman confronted Beckham and insinuated to Beckham that he would end his career that day. Sanders added that another teammate echoed that statement to Beckham. He added, “My sources just tell me that Josh really provoked a lot of this, because now, it got into something else: it got personal. You say you’re going to end this guy’s career, you out there insinuating you’re going to do it with a baseball bat; then you start talking about his hairstyle, then you start talking about his sexuality. So now, when you talk about things like that of that nature, it goes way off the field into something else because now this is personal.”
Sanders doubled down when speaking to Rich Eisen, asserting, “There were sexuality slurs as well directed to Odell as well as propaganda about the way he wears his hair…. Now this young kid (Beckham) is furious…and this is happening in his stadium.”
The Giants confirmed a practice squad player confronted Beckham while holding a bat; Giants Daily released a video of the pregame incident. An NFL Films camera shows Norman holding the bat.
On Monday, Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond denied any Panther used the bat to threaten Beckham, claiming the bat tradition is “nothing new.” The Panthers have brought bats onto the field during pregame warm-ups all season to represent home-run plays and “bringing the wood.” Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere, on injured reserve with a fractured leg, protested along with Drummond that the bats were intended to represent him in absentia. He released a series of tweets, reading:
Come on now my boys carry the bat with them as it symbolizes my presence still being with them at the game and the NFL has a problem??? I carried the bat out the tunnel against Atlanta and my teammates held it during warm ups that game to … And on top of that I believe Odell is an awesome player met him a few times but during the game in between the lines there was no bat
Giants coach Tom Coughlin commented on the controversy on Monday, saying: “We all know that the personal battles have no presence in the game of football, not at any level. They’re a distraction. They break concentration. They prevent the great game of football from being played as a team, team sport. That being said, there are qualities that Odell Beckham, this young man, bring to this football team the likes of which I’ve never seen.
“He has great energy. He has great enthusiasm. He gives great effort. He does it literally every day that he walks out on the field. I will not defend his actions yesterday, because they were wrong and this particular franchise and organization does not tolerate that. But I will defend the young man, and the quality of the person. I will defend him as long as I am able.”