Scott Fowler

NFL does right thing by suspending Beckham, but it never should have come to that

What do you have to do in today’s NFL to get kicked out of a game while it is still going on?

That question needs to be asked of every NFL referee this week, because what Odell Beckham Jr. did Sunday certainly made it look like the officials were protecting one of the league’s biggest stars at the expense of player safety.

The NFL retroactively attempted to right the wrong on Monday, suspending Beckham for his next game (Beckham can appeal). That suspension was absolutely the correct step, but it never should have gotten that far.

Beckham’s most egregious act came when he took a running head start, targeted cornerback Josh Norman from the blind side and blasted him with a helmet-to-helmet hit that would have put many of us in the hospital.

If the blow had landed exactly the way Beckham intended, at least Norman but likely both players would have wound up with a concussion. The Panthers’ chances at the Super Bowl would have taken a correspondingly major blow.

“If you take a shot at a guy’s head?” Norman would ask later. “I mean, c’mon now .... The guy ran 15 yards down the field – a dead-on collision. The play was all the way on the left side. He came back and was hunting, and it was malicious in every way.”

Exactly. Beckham’s out-of-control anger was so apparent that even the New York tabloids turned on the Giants’ most talented player in Monday’s editions, with the New York Post calling Beckham a “Giant Jerk!” on its front page and the New York Daily News labeling Beckham “Bad Santa.”

Beckham should have been ejected after that bit of head-hunting. And if game officials simply missed seeing what happened, then NFL rules must be changed so that real-time overseers in the New York office could rectify the situation remotely, communicate with the referee and kick Beckham out that way.

Norman wasn’t blameless Sunday. Much like former Panthers receiver Steve Smith, Norman thrives on conflict and perceived slights. I’m sure Norman and some of the Panthers’ other defensive backs trash-talked with Beckham Sunday, because the next time Norman goes a day without trash-talking will be the next time he contracts severe laryngitis. And Norman drew two personal-foul penalties himself (compared with Beckham’s three, which really should have been about six).

As for the black baseball bat Panthers practice-squad player Marcus Ball carried on the field in the pregame that apparently irritated Beckham to begin with, it sounds minor to me. But the Panthers still need to stop doing that right now.

You’re undefeated, guys. You don’t need props.

But a baseball bat on the opposite sideline, or any of the things Norman did on the field – all of that pales in comparison to Beckham’s behavior. Beckham was basically acting like he was above the law. And, for 60 minutes, he was.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin wouldn’t take Beckham out because he wanted to win the game, but Coughlin never should have had that choice to make. Referee Terry McAulay should have made that choice for Coughlin by sending Beckham off the field for good.

But McAulay’s crew hasn’t ejected a player all year and wasn’t about to start Sunday. In fact, only two players in the NFL have been ejected all year – Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright for trying to rip an opponent’s helmet off and Denver defensive back T.J. Ward for throwing a punch. (Smith also was one of two players ejected for fighting in a preseason game with Baltimore, but officially that doesn’t count).

Beckham should have been ejection No. 3. As pro golfer Jordan Spieth said on Twitter during one of Beckham’s displays: “OBJ is embarrassing himself right now.”

Norman did plenty of talking after the game about the incidents. “I hope I pulled back the mask on who this guy really is,” Norman said of the Giants receiver.

Beckham, meanwhile, stuck his head in the sand and pretended none of it had never happened – a child with his hand stuck in the cookie jar refusing to talk about how it got there. He dodged all questions about Norman the same way, repeating some version of the words: “It is unfortunate that we lost.”

So the NFL has stepped in and suspended Beckham instead. Thankfully, he isn’t above the law after all.

I hope it holds up, because what Beckham did was dangerous, petulant and out-of-control. If you can’t get ejected for behavior like that, you should at least be suspended. And if you can’t be suspended either – if Beckham ultimately wins an appeal – then something is seriously wrong with the NFL.