Sunday night, after a win over the Washington Redskins that knocked their rivals out of playoff contention and sealed the franchise’s first 11-plus win season in nearly a decade, New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and a few of his teammates did a little celebrating.
Beckham, fellow wideouts Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis and a few others hopped on a private plane to Miami, partied the night away with a celebrity entourage that included Justin Bieber and Johnny Manziel, then spent a Monday off day on a boat off the coast of the south Florida hotspot. Under almost all circumstances, this would be totally acceptable behavior for a group of grown men who’d earned their time off. Instead, the story has taken on a life of its own.
In the current sports media landscape, and with New York just days away from a playoff trip to Green Bay to take on the red-hot Packers, the trip wasn’t taken with a grain of salt as it usually would be. Instead, it was dissected, questioned and analyzed. The Giants said all the right things in the days that followed. Coach Ben McAdoo noted that the team was off and players were free to do as they pleased. Eli Manning joked that he wished his teammates had been wearing shirts. When they returned, the receivers sidestepped questions about the trip, putting the focus back on football.
Instead, it was dissected, questioned and analyzed. The Giants said all the right things in the days that followed. Coach Ben McAdoo noted that the team was off and players were free to do as they pleased. Eli Manning joked that he wished his teammates had been wearing shirts. When they returned, the receivers sidestepped questions about the trip, putting the focus back on football. They all had the right idea. But it will be difficult for the media let this one go, especially if the Giants fall in Green Bay this weekend. We’ve seen this saga play out before.
Nine years ago, during a playoff bye week, a trip to Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico, started the ball rolling on a legacy that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hasn’t been able to shake since.
As the top-seeded Cowboys awaited their opponent, Romo, and his then girlfriend, pop star Jessica Simpson, went with friend and teammate Jason Witten and his wife and former teammate Bobby Carpenter and his significant other, on a weekend trip to the vacation spot to unwind during the weekend of their bye. Paparazzi, which was known to follow Simpson and Romo around frequently at the time, snapped photos of the group and created a storm of criticism in Dallas.
Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells used his ESPN platform to criticize Romo for giving into the pull of being a “celebrity quarterback.” Analysts from coast to coast questioned Romo’s work ethic and commitment to the team.
“You don’t go to Cabo the week before a playoff game,” former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman told his Cowboys teammate Michael Irvin in a radio interview the following week. “You just don’t do it.”
And that was all before the Cowboys lost to the Giants in the divisional round behind a mediocre game from Romo. The loss only turned up the noise around Romo, who’d also famously bobbled a snap the season before on a field goal attempt that would’ve sent Dallas on to the next round of the playoffs. In those moments, the narrative surrounding Romo was born and it hasn’t ceased to exist despite Romo getting the playoff monkey off his back in subsequent years and improving as a player. The perception of him from 2007 has stuck to him like glue and will until he wins a Super Bowl if he ever does.
It’s why Cowboys fans have been praying that their team, looking at almost an identical situation in terms of their playoff positioning 10 years later, stays close to home during the upcoming bye weekend. To that end, Dallas rookie quarterback Prescott was asked if he planned to leave town this weekend, and he was poised in his response.
“Good try,” the rookie quipped. “Hanging out and getting rested. Yeah, anytime football’s on I’m going to watch it.”
And that’s the real issue here for Beckham and the Giants. Not what they did, but the perception, and the optics of the situation. Because while the Giants were kicking off their party in Miami, the Packers and Lions were playing to determine which would host New York the following week. It was a game it wouldn’t have hurt the Giants to watch live.
Going into Green Bay and getting a win against a red-hot Packers team led by the NFL’s best quarterback was always going to be a tall task, one they’re not favored to complete. But now they’ve now put added pressure on themselves to do just that from outside sources looking to tear them down at the first sign of cracks in the foundation. Beckham has been dealing with similar outside pressure since the moment he has emerged as a star wide receiver for New York.
But it’s difficult to empathize with Beckham when he brings a lot of this on himself. After all, while Romo and his entourage were subject to the whims of the paparazzi, the Giants players implicated themselves by posting their exploits all over social media, something they should know better than to do. This should be a lesson to all players: have your fun, live your life and enjoy. But there’s no need to share it with your fans via social media, especially during the season. All that does is invite criticism, and you’ve already got plenty of that coming your way without creating more.
As far as we know, Giants players did nothing wrong on their getaway to Miami, but regardless of what they wanted to do, they should’ve known better in a lot of cases. Veterans like Victor Cruz should have weighed the pros and cons of whether the trip was really worth it at all, and even if they did opt to go anyway, all the players should have used better judgment in terms of concealing the nature of their trip. Sometimes, most times, it’s best to keep your private life private. Once what you do in your private life becomes public it becomes part of your career, for better or for worse.
If Beckham has a monster game in his playoff debut and the Giants get out of Green Bay and win on Sunday, all of the noise surrounding the trip to Miami will die, and perhaps even become a rallying cry for the team. But if they come up short and Beckham’s third NFL season ends with a flat performance, the narrative around the star wideout will continue to build in the wrong direction. And once public perception starts going sideways, it’s quite difficult for the player to get a hold of that narrative and steer it back toward the shore. Ask Tony Romo.