It's been a strange week for New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
The acrobat best-known for one-handed catches last Sunday in one game suddenly inherited the reputation as a dirty player after repeated intentional blows to the head of Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman earned him a one-game suspension from the NFL.
Yet it's a rationalization for his behavior -- allegations leaked by the Giants themselves and conveyed through some other former superstars like Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders -- that has the most potential for a Hollywood-scripted mystery movie.
According to various sources including the Giants, at least one Panthers player called Beckham a gay slur either before or during the game, and that set off their player. Irvin doubled down last week, saying Beckham has been the target of gay slurs all season by a number of players on various teams. Some of the Panthers players themselves seemed to inadvertently offer evidence of it publicly, using off-color sexist language to describe Beckham after the game, stopping just short of explicitly homophobic terms.
The allegations set the potential stage for an insightful look into the use of homophobia by players to harass and intimidate one another. With Beckham's NFL hearing last Wednesday, it looked like Beckham would have to address these slurs personally and the league would have to investigate.
Then... silence. The Giants have not released a formal statement or filed a formal complaint with the League office. Beckham did not raise the issue in the arbitration hearing about his suspension. The Panthers have cried ignorance. The NFL has reportedly said it can find no evidence of slurs and has moved on.
Now after the Giants raised the issue a week ago we're left with lots of questions, no answers, and all parties involved have gone quiet.
So what gives?
There's just about a 100% chance the Panthers called Beckham gay slurs
While the Panthers brass and head coach Ron Rivera have said there's no evidence that gay slurs were used by Panthers players, their credibility on this issue is as hollow as their current win-streak.
Last Monday the team also claimed its players had not taunted Beckham before the game; Then video surfaced Tuesday of a Panthers player taunting Beckham with a baseball bat and following Beckham to the Giants' side of the field during pregame warm-up:
What is a Panthers practice squad player doing going into the Giants team stretching area.. with a baseball bat? pic.twitter.com/4mIQ0jwYRg— Giants Daily (@NYGDaily) December 22, 2015
Again, the Panthers claimed this never happened. Yet the video clearly shows it did. And they said it didn't. But it did. Their denial of gay slurs by players seems much less credible in this context.
On the flip side, all of the confirmed facts (namely the use of a baseball bat in intimidation) have corroborated what Beckham and the Giants have leaked. While Beckham hasn't spoken publicly himself, he has given details through Irvin and Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter.
"Odell did have a couple of encounters before the game, verbally, and there was a conversation with a practice squad player who did have a bat," Carter told Mike & Mike before video confirming the confrontation was released.
It's no surprise the Giants would take this issue so seriously as the team and its ownership have a long tradition of support for the LGBT community. Team matriarch Joan Tisch worked with gay men with AIDS in the Eighties; GMHC (formerly Gay Men's Health Crisis) is currently located in the Tisch Building. Her son, current Giants owner Steve Tisch, has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage for years. The team front office has supported various LGBT initiatives since at least 2007 and currently works with the You Can Play project. Together they hosted LGBT youth at the very game where this homophobic incident occurred.
"Why would our guy say they used that language unless they did?" Giants spokesperson Pat Hanlon told Outsports. "The claim serves no purpose other than the truth."
Given the evidence and overwhelming allegations we've seen and heard, few reasonable people would disagree.
Some, like Rivera, point to the lack of actual audio evidence of the homophobic language yet unearthed, given the number of cameras and microphones on and around the field. It's a bit naive to think players wouldn't be cognizant of these when choosing who would use this kind of language and when to do it. Players can also be very aware of the proximity of officials when choosing to use abusive and illegal language.
While he hasn't revealed his source, Carter said the use of gay slurs directed at Beckham isn't just speculation.
"There were some things, some gay, homophobic things that were said to him," Carter said. "Now, that is not just report, that's true. I can confirm all that being true."
Still, without audio evidence of the slurs or a public admission by Panthers players, the NFL has been given reason to say, "no reason to look here, everybody please get back to the games."
So why is everyone publicly clamming up?
It's not just the NFL moving quickly past this incident.
While Beckham has spoken to former players about the issue, he has yet to address it publicly himself. Former players and the Giants have said this has happened to Beckham multiple times throughout the season. Yet everyone fails to answer two burning questions: Who? And when? Beckham hasn't yet answered those two burning questions.
Behind closed doors at his suspension-appeal hearing, Beckham didn't raise the issue with arbitrator James Thrash. That was his opportunity to put this squarely on the lap of the NFL front office; He chose not to. Instead of answers, we've gotten silence from Beckham himself.
The Giants, too, have been quiet on the issue, other than speaking through media members. They've offered no details publicly and no official team statement. While they have notified the NFL of the allegations, according to a League source neither the team nor Beckham has filed a formal complaint with the League about the use of slurs by opposing players.
The You Can Play project, which works with the Giants and NFL on LGBT issues and invited LGBT youth to that game, has been equally silent. You Can Play vice-president Anna Aagenes told Outsports the group wants to stay positive while "our executive director, Wade Davis, is working with the NFL and following up with them about these allegations." Aagenes did not elaborate on what "working with the NFL" meant in this case.
Rivera has claimed that he and the Panthers "don't tolerate" the use of homophobic language. Yet he hasn't explained why he and the team are so sensitive to it or how they have addressed it on the team. If they're so serious about it, why hasn't Davis, the NFL's appointed go-to-guy on these issues, visited the team? Where's the public dialogue about the issue? Where's the outreach between the Panthers' front office and the Giants, working together to solve the problem?
Instead, silence. "Everybody, please get back to the games."
Unanswered questions beget questions
When questions go unanswered in today's media culture, something will always fill the void. In this case, all of the curiosity has led to more questions and speculation. Namely:
1) Why would a couple gay slurs so violently set off Beckham?
2) Why would other NFL players choose to go there in the first place?
NBC Sports' Jason Page speculated about all of that last week on his radio show, sharing his own enraged experience as a gay athlete being called a gay slur by a competitor.
Beckham's reaction harkens back to that of Emile Griffith, one of the best boxers in the world when he entered the ring to face Benny Paret in 1962. Griffith was publicly closeted but out as a gay man in corners of his personal and professional lives. Paret made the unfortunate mistake of taunting Griffith as a "maricon" - the Spanish equivalent of "the F word" - before the match. The word enraged Griffith, who killed Paret in the ring that night.
The closest I've ever come to punching someone was when a competitor years ago called me "the F word."
For a gay athlete, that word lingers. It can linger for years, as it has for Page and Griffith, along with so many others. So it's understandable that some people may start to put two and two together and get four: Maybe Beckham is gay and that's why the gay slurs set him off. Or maybe, as Irvin has said, he has heard it so many times that the Pathers' piling on was just the tipping point.
We've heard plenty in the last week about football players trying to get under the skin of the other team. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report said Shannon Sharpe once taunted Derrick Thomas by repeating the phone number of his girlfriend because Sharpe was sleeping with her. "Mind games" are part of some players' strategy.
Why would these Panthers players -- and, according to Irvin players of various teams all season -- taunt Beckham in this fashion? Why gay slurs? Word couldn't have "gotten out" that the slurs worked against Beckham: The receiver caught at least 100 yards in every game from Halloween until the game against Carolina, racking up eight touchdowns in that time. If players have been using the slurs all season, it hasn't been working (until last Sunday).
In all likelihood, they have been using the language because they think he's gay. Maybe it's because of the blonde highlights in his hair. Maybe it's because he likes to dance. Or maybe it's the curious look he gave a player's butt recently, which drew tons of speculation on Robert Littal's Black Sports Online in November.