The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

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On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

Kevin Durant runs fake Twitter accounts and other news of the week The Week That Was Sept. 18-22

Monday 09.18.17

Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was called “garbage” by a Twitter user who confused him with New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall during Monday Night Football; Denver’s Marshall told the fan, “Meet me in the parking lot after the game chump!” Convicted murderer Dylann Roof, who’s really set in this whole white supremacy thing, wants to fire his appellate attorneys because they are his “political and biological enemies”; the lawyers are Jewish and Indian. Texas football coach Tom Herman, after his team’s 27-24 double-overtime loss to USC over the weekend, said he didn’t cry after the game but that there were “some primal screams” in the shower. Former Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, adding more fuel to the fire that will be Oct. 17, answered, “Why would I?” when asked whether he spoke with then-teammate LeBron James when he demanded a trade over the summer. Former NBA MVP and reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant, still mad online for some reason, apparently has spoof accounts solely for the purpose of defending himself against detractors on Twitter and accidentally tweeted one of said defenses from his actual personal account.

Tuesday 09.19.17

Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, who has been with the team for three seasons and thus missed the team’s controversial move from Seattle, shot back at Durant by tweeting that the Thunder are “the best and most professional organization in the NBA.” In the worst mashup since Pizza Hut and KFC joined in unholy matrimony, Detroit will soon be the home of the first IHOP-Applebee’s joint restaurant. Elton John fan President Donald Trump said the U.S. will have no other choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea and its leader, “Rocket Man.” Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard used to call friends during halftime of games to ask about how he was playing. After former Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss accused teammate Robert Griffin III of celebrating the firing of coach Mike Shanahan in 2013, Griffin shot back by accusing Moss of “subtweeting” him; Moss’ comments were made on the radio, and the retired receiver hasn’t tweeted since 2011. Former Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn — responsible for drafting point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, neither of whom are still on the team, ahead of Stephen Curry — said New York Knicks forward Michael Beasley has the ability to replace fellow forward Carmelo Anthony if the latter decides to leave the Knicks. Former Chicago Bears defensive back Charles Tillman wants to become a fed. Hip-hop artist Boosie Badazz, when asked why he dissed late rapper Nussie on his recently released track, responded that “even though he’s gone, rest in peace, I still felt like he was a p—y for what he was doing as far as hating on me and what I had going.”

Wednesday 09.20.17

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), not great with metaphors, compared Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act to being “in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we’re headed toward the canyon.” Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, when asked about his taxpayer-funded $200,000-a-year security costs, told a Milwaukee journalist: “F— you & the horse you rode in on.” It was New York’s Brandon Marshall’s turn to be mixed up with the other Brandon Marshall. Proving definitively that we all look alike, 6-foot-9, 230-pound former NBA player Kenyon Martin said he used to be confused with 6-foot, 200-pound rapper Joe Budden all the time in the early 2000s. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley called current players “poor babies” for wanting more rest between games; Barkley played a full 82-game season just three times in his 16-year career and logged 44,179 total minutes, nearly 6,000 fewer minutes than LeBron James has in 14 seasons. After Hurricane Maria, which has left at least nine people dead throughout the Caribbean, Sabrina the Teenage Witch expressed her sympathy by complaining about the storm ruining her family vacation to a Nickelodeon resort. Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, or his twin brother, Marcus — you can never be too sure — is expected to have sports hernia surgery this week. Former NFL player Albert Haynesworth, who in 2011 said, “I couldn’t tell you the last time I dated a black girl. … I don’t even like black girls,” said the mother of his child, who is white, physically assaulted him and called him the N-word during their two-year relationship.

Thursday 09.21.17

Haynesworth, somehow upsetting another subset of the country in the process, responded to the controversy by stating emphatically that “as long as you are a beautiful REAL WOMAN trust me I’m trying to smash!!!” Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that he never “knowingly” lied while serving in the Trump administration despite saying three days before that he “absolutely” regrets arguing with reporters about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. While claiming that they want the best for their kids, American parents have effectively forced General Mills Inc. to reintegrate “artificial colors and flavors” back into Trix cereal. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a prominent cancer researcher, believes that water consumption, not sunscreen, prevents sunburn. Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson tweeted out a story with the headline “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars” before later apologizing because “There is so much there that’s problematic AF [as f—] and I should have recognized it sooner.” The makers of Gatorade sports drink, which also produces electrolyte-infused Propel water, must pay $300,000 to the California Attorney General’s Office for telling video game players to avoid water. A Virginia woman said she shot a state trooper in the arm because “I was high as hell.”

Friday 09.22.17

After North Korea leader Kim Jong Un clapped back at Trump by calling the U.S. president a mentally deranged “dotard,” Trump kept the roast session going by calling Kim a “madman.” As further proof that machine is beating man in the fight for the planet, Walmart wants to deliver groceries to customers even when they’re not home. J.R. “Pipe” Smith, a known wordsmith, said future free agent LeBron James is “going to be wherever the f— he wants to be at.” Denver Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian’s parents are still stuck in the cheap seats during home games despite their son leading the team to a 2-0 start this season. Republican lawmakers may fail to repeal the Affordable Care Act (again) because of Arizona Sen. John McCain (again).

Daily Dose: 3/8/17 International Women’s Day is more important than ever

Hey, guess what! More radio. Sort of. We did the podcast yesterday, and it got rather deep. We talked Shaq, Terrika Foster-Brasby sat down with Rick Ross and we introduced a new segment called “You Played Yourself.” Check it out.

It’s International Women’s Day today, which means that if you haven’t already, it’s high time you do something about that. Call your mom. Your sister. Your aunt. Your teacher. And because this is still the world we live in, protests are absolutely appropriate on the day. Where we are in this nation, never mind across the globe on the matter of women’s rights is really quite shameful. Don’t forget. Male privilege is the first privilege. Check out some of the names that were on the stage.

So, apparently President Donald Trump has really ticked off the big guy. Yep, Barack Obama. Apparently all this stuff about wiretapping is getting on his nerves, because it’s a pretty serious accusation to just throw out there, and then act like it doesn’t matter if you had proof or not. That’s just not how that works. According to CNN, 44 is super angry, but it’s not quite clear what he can do about it. After all, he’s out of office and now he’s getting dragged back in for something he’s not particularly fond of. I’d be mad, too.

Needless to say, America is really divided these days. There was a time when on the map between the red and the blue, there was a fair amount of purple. Which ultimately was a good thing. We weren’t at polar extremes, so on the most basic things, it felt like meeting in the middle was closer to becoming an option. Alas, those days are over. Purple America has basically disappeared, and counties are staunchly in the Democrat or Republican side. We’re moving backward at this point, which is pretty scary.

Brandon Marshall has landed another job. He’ll be heading to the New York Giants, which, I’d say, is a good fit. Solid team, he doesn’t have to be the man and they’re always in it. It’s wild that a guy of his skill level in the NFL will now have played for four different teams before the Giants, but that’s how it happens. It also means he doesn’t have to move, as a result of going from one New York team to another. For March NFL news, this is a pretty big deal, particularly if you care about one of the teams in the NFC East.

Free Food

Coffee Break: I almost completely forgot a couple of programming notes. I did a podcast with the guys over at True Hoop talking about the movie Get Out. It was really fun. ALSO, Domonique Foxworth and I did another episode of Locker Room Lawyer, so you can check that out, as well!

Snack Time: The man who founded Waffle House, Joseph Rogers, has passed away. Let’s all take a moment of silence for the best 24-hour restaurant America has ever seen.

Dessert: Do you say “Cash me ousside” because you think you’re cool and lit? Well, read this.