Yesterday, newly-acquired Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. posted and deleted a tweet. In said tweet, Beckham indicated that he’s “goin dark”, which presumably means he’ll be avoiding social media for a time. He cited his need for a “vacation”, which, as it’s the NFL offseason, one would expect. But wait; here’s the kicker…
Beckham apparently wants a new deal.
And that, folks, appears to be the motivating factor in all things. Recently-traded wideout Antonio Brown’s recent displays of pique and (supposedly calculated) lunacy in hindsight seems to have been nothing more than a plea for more money, although the side effect of Brown’s (un)intended bad behavior undoubtedly drove his trade value to the floor. In Brown’s world, nothing mattered except his ultimate payday. So, too, is the case with Beckham, although he’s on much more shaky ground, having negotiated a five-year extension with the New York Giants last August. Should a new deal materialize for Beckham in Cleveland this season, it would set new lows in bad faith negotiations. How much is a star player worth to a team’s integrity?
Regardless, this sort of drama is nothing new for star “diva” wide receivers. For reasons unknown, receivers, particularly good ones, seem to carry an inordinate amount of “swagger”. There’s a marked degree of heightened narcissism and bravado, usually coupled with a smidge of showmanship. There’s a sense of elitism they carry, a sense of privilege, that somehow they deserve more respect and attention (and yes, money) than their teammates do.
The “look at me” sensation most divas engender seems to have begun with former Oilers wideout and return specialist Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, whose end zone celebrations set the modern standard for team performances after a score, but really, there’s never been a shortage of mouthy, me-first receivers in any era. Because of their largess, their names are instantly familiar. Gary Clark…Michael Irvin…Chad Johnson…Terrell Owens…Randy Moss…even the inimitable Jerry Rice had his moments of self-promotion and outsized ego.
Currently, primary – or “#1” – wide receivers touch the ball an average of six to 10 times per game. If a passing game is working effectively, receivers generally score between five and 15 touchdowns per season. Teams run approximately 70 offensive plays per game, which means the best wideouts are featured only about 10% of the time in a typical contest.
So why the ego issues?
That’s a good question, and I’m not sure there’s an easy explanation, but here’s my take:
Star wideouts line up alone. They’re alone when running routes. They’re exposed more than any other offensive player, particularly after a catch in open space. In their minds, they depend on the quarterback and no one else, because the quarterback is directly responsible for their (lack of) production. Running backs and tight ends are completely irrelevant. Other wideouts are simply leaching catches. The offensive line is there to allow the quarterback time to get the ball to the star wideout only. The defense? Who cares?
The net result of this positional isolation is marked narcissism, because, at their core, diva wideouts believe – sometimes correctly, if they play with a substandard quarterback – that they alone are the arbiters of their own success. Team success is nice, but ultimately, the diva only cares about himself and his personal adulation. The world around them is a trifle, an object that serves only to serve their whims and boost – or confirm – their inflated self-esteem. And an egregious paycheck is an affirmation of that.
Brown and Beckham Jr. certainly aren’t the only current examples of divas, but it should be noted that there’s always counterpoints. The Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald is a first-ballot Hall of Fame receiver and is considered one of the game’s most gracious ambassadors. The Bengals’ A.J. Green has been mostly quiet and professional throughout his notable career. The Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, despite some rocky incidents before he was drafted, has been one of the most productive and least-noticed wideouts in the NFL for the last five years. So let’s not tar all star wideouts with the same brush.
After Beckham’s latest diatribe, no one’s sure what he’ll do next, which is exactly the way he wants it. There’s seemingly very little else a diva seems to care about, but he wants to make sure you’re watching.