In its new interview with Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr., GQ broached a topic that no media outlet had ever previously addressed with Beckham — possibly because most reporters realize that the answer to the question isn’t relevant. But Beckham didn’t seem to mind it. In fact, it almost seemed as if he wanted to talk about rumors regarding his sexuality.
Here’s the first question, verbatim: “There was a period of time when a lot of gossip sites — specifically black gossip sites — would constantly say that you were closeted. They’d call you ‘excited’ in a hot-tub photo with your teammates or simply just say you’re gay. How’d that make you feel?”
“I’ve never had an opportunity to talk about this,” Beckham said in response. “Honestly wasn’t offended. I’ve never once had no problem with anybody who has their own personal life that they live. I have friends who are gay. It was almost more funny to me. I almost messed with them even more. It’s like when someone gives me an ultimatum, I’m usually always going to go to the opposite way of what you want me to go. So when they would say that, I would almost mess with them even more. I have no problem with anyone’s sexual orientation.”
Beckham doesn’t say whether he’s gay, although his response implies he’s not. But he also wasn’t asked that question, and he shouldn’t have been. Again, it’s irrelevant. But, again, he’s not offended by speculation that may have contributed to the slurs that reportedly were directed at him before and during a fateful game against the Panthers in December 2015. However, he does seem to be bothered by the fact that black media sites and the black community spend so much time wondering about his personal habits.
“It was just a lose-lose,” Beckham said. “They’d see me with a white woman and be like, ‘Why don’t you be with any sisters?’ I have no problem with any race. Love is love. If you’re attracted to somebody, you’re attracted to somebody. There was such a stigma built up, [as though] I don’t like my own women. It’s like, no, I don’t like anybody who annoys me. . . .
“Yes, it makes it worse when it comes from the black community. I feel like everything is a double standard. You want us to support the black community, and then you go out and bash black people for being happy. So someone can’t be happy, someone can’t be dancing. ‘Oh, he’s always around guys, he’s never around girls.’ I just don’t want you to see what woman I’m with, and I don’t want you in my personal life. I always try to keep my personal life my personal life. I feel like I don’t owe that to anybody.”
He’s right about that, but this issue is another example of the mixed signals that routinely come from Beckham. On one hand, he’ll talk openly about personal matters. On the other hand, he’ll complain about people focusing on personal matters.
Five years since he became an NFL superstar, Beckham still doesn’t seem to understand that seeking attention (such as, for example, submitting to a lengthy interview with GQ) comes with the reality that attention may lead to scrutiny. The only way to maximize privacy is to be genuinely and totally private; sitting for interviews with ESPN or GQ or anyone else strips away some of that privacy, and sets the stage for fans and media to react to the things he says in those settings.
And that’s the one thing Beckham and plenty of other star athletes have yet to realize. Sports and society have become increasingly polarized; anyone who stands up and gets noticed is going to draw not only praise, but also criticism.