OBJ and 10-90

This past weekend, the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers engaged in an emotionally charged football game that has provided fodder for both sports commentators and sports fans alike. The game featured two of the best athletes in the NFL – wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ) and corner back Josh Norman. In only his second year in the league, Odell has established himself as one of the most talented wide receivers in football while Norman is a front runner for Defensive Player of the Year during his standout season. The game should have been an exceptional display of athleticism and an exciting competitive battle between two of the top athletes in the world. Instead, it turned into an unequivocal embarrassment that – in my opinion – has shed light on a much bigger issue within our society today.

To sum the situation: during the Giants’ opening series, Odell Beckham Jr. beat Norman for what would have been a touchdown completion. Beckham, however, dropped the pass. On the Giants 5th play, Norman would “body slam” Beckham Jr. After that, the next 3+ quarters consisted of OBJ and Norman constantly getting into pushing matches, with OBJ throwing punches on several plays and then targeting Norman after the conclusion of a play which resulted in OBJ drilling Norman with his helmet. The plays on the field concluded in several unsportsmanlike penalties and a one game suspension for Odell Beckham Jr.

Reaction

Admittedly, most of the commentary regarding the situation places OBJ in the wrong to some degree. However, there have been several things written suggesting that Norman started the entire situation and the fact that Carolina had a baseball bat on the field adds some context to the emotions OBJ was playing with. There have been others that note the age of OBJ (23) should exempt him from some of the blame; the fact that football is an inherently emotionally charged event in which participants should be granted some sort of leeway in terms of behavior; or compare the situation to another situation in which a suspension/fine was not levied.

Reflection

I don’t want to opine on whether OBJ should be suspended, whether Norman provoked the situation, or whether football players should be given a general free pass in terms of “sportsmanship.” For me, all of the commentary is mis-focused. I would rather use this event as an opportunity for our student-athletes to learn.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

To that end, let’s analyze what happened from OBJ’s perspective:
1) Carolina brought a bat to the field in which many believe was intended to insight OBJ (although the Panthers assert the bat is with them all games to honor an injured teammate).
2) The media placed added pressure on all participants, including OBJ, as the Panthers were looking to remain undefeated and the Giants are fighting for a playoff birth.
3) Norman as well as Finnegan and others probably shared some unpleasantries with Beckham through pre-game into the game.
4) OBJ dropped a pass and was subsequently “body slammed” on the first series of the game.

These are things that happened. How OBJ reacted to these things would define who he was – both as a professional athlete and as a person – on this particular day. The key takeaway is that OBJ had choices on how to react; he still controlled the 90%. Moreover, because of his popularity and position in the sports world, the situation presented an opportunity for OBJ to make a statement – both as a football player and as a professional. A statement that an elite athlete can rise above the noise, the nonsensical, the pressure and STILL DOMINATE. OBJ had the opportunity to overcome the fact that Norman provoked him. Overcome the bats, the pressure, the media hype. OBJ had a choice: allow Norman, the Panthers D, the “emotion” of the situation unnerve him; or rise above it and allow his exceptional play to speak volumes for him as an athlete and as a man. He chose the former. He could have focused on catching more passes, scoring more touchdowns, doing whatever he could to help his team win. The narrative today would have been – OBJ perseveres and dominates against an unsportsmanlike defense. Instead, he settled for taking cheap shots. For an athlete as gifted as OBJ, how unfortunate.

We’re human, we make mistakes. But, as a public figure in the biggest media market in the world, the choices OBJ would make would be on display for the entire sports watching community. And through his choices, the athletic superstar missed an opportunity to become an icon, a role model, and the embodiment of what all professional athletes should be. He will have other opportunities – but this was a chance for OBJ to assert his greatness – and he missed it.

Where Do We Go

A story recently came out about Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. Miller, playing in his first season against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, tried getting in MJ’s head by taunting him going into halftime. According to Miller, his words were so bad he wouldn’t be able to share his commentary on television. MJ responded with 40 points in the second half. Jordan didn’t need to respond in kind to Miller with words – he simply embarrassed Miller through his play.

In our lives – both on the field and off of it – people will say and do negative things to us. Unfortunately, we can’t control the actions of others – but we can be cognitive over our own actions. We can understand that life is 10% what happens to us (uncontrollable) and 90% how we react (controllable). As a teacher and a coach, I see kids today focus most of their attention on the uncontrollable. They anguish over the thoughts and words of others and shutdown easily. They make excuses for their reactions and point fingers at the uncontrollable. Giants fans around America today are pointing their collective fingers at Norman and the Panthers. Misguided.

How many times has a home run, a strikeout, an error, comments from competitors completely unnerved you? How many times have you excused failure because of someone else? How many times have you blamed an umpire for calling you out on a close play? How many times did the 2nd strike call lead to your strikeout?

If any of the above is applicable, you are focused too intently on the uncontrollable. Instead, understand that we are not defined by a home run, a strikeout, an error, a loss, umpire calls, others comments. Rather, WE ARE DEFINED BY HOW WE CHOOSE TO REACT. How we choose to carry ourselves in the face of adversity or during times of success – that is what defines us as athletes and as people.

10% what happens – 90% how we react. Grow, develop, be a better you today than you were yesterday.

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