The sports media abhors a vacuum. Which could be one of the reason why athletes abhor the sports media.
Even when nothing is going on, something must be going on, because all those hours of TV and radio and podcast content must be filled. Last week, they were filled by an obsession with Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and others going to Miami on Monday, their day off one day after the end of the regular season.
It’s impossible to know whether and to what extent the trip was a distraction without knowing what other players on other teams do on their days off. It’s also impossible to know whether the trip became a distraction without knowing whether and to what extent the trip constituted a departure from the normal routines of the players involved. (That’s a point that Falcons coach Dan Quinn made on Monday’s PFT Live.)
In this specific case, the problem arose not from the trip but from the media’s over-the-top reaction to it. It was an issue all week long, low-hanging fruit on which bloviators happily gorged because it was easy and it was simple and it was conducive to get-off-my-lawn hot takery. The players heard it (how couldn’t they?), and it became part of the baggage that Beckham and others carried in to the game.
And so, in addition to the motivation to win a big game on the sizable stage of the postseason, Beckham and his teammates knew that failure would be traced immediately back to events from six days earlier. Events that had nothing to do with the game. Events that, for all anyone knows, may have been not all that much different from the things that players do on their own time every week of the season.
“Fair or not, when you do that, you’re gonna put a spotlight and a target right on your back, and say, ‘Look at me.’ And now when the team needs you, he’s got to step up,” FOX’s Joe Buck said after an arguably overthrown pass from Eli Manning wasn’t caught by Beckham in the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Packers.
Fair it’s not. But that didn’t stop Buck or Troy Aikman from banging that drum to millions, plenty of whom may not have known anything about the South Beach boating brouhaha before it was wedged into the broadcast of the game.
“It is what it is,” Aikman said. “You gave the public, you gave teammates, gave people in the locker room, you gave everybody here at this game and everybody watching an opportunity to weigh in on it and say whether or not it impacted the performance.”
Without more information about what Beckham routinely does on his days off and what other players in the game did on their day off preceding it, it’s impossible to even begin to know whether it impacted the performance. But the incessant discussion about whether it did or didn’t or would or wouldn’t or could or couldn’t impact the performance took on a life of its own, necessarily creeping into the brain of a 24-year-old who has done more than enough in three NFL seasons to earn the benefit of the doubt regarding his ability to balance free time and work time in the same way he presumably did when he entered the NFL as a 21-year-old.
The broader lesson to be learned by Beckham and others is that, even if they know that whatever they choose to do on their own time won’t be an issue, they need to factor in the potential reaction by folks who will be looking for something to get riled up about. If the week is sufficiently slow and the market sufficiently large, it can morph into a distraction even if, initially, it wasn’t.