BEREA, Ohio — Before joining the Cleveland Browns this offseason, Sheldon Richardson admits he’d heard the rap that Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t a great teammate. Now, after sharing the locker room with the wide receiver these past few months, Richardson has a “completely opposite” viewpoint.
“Couldn’t be further from the truth. … it’s all propaganda,” Richardson said of Beckham’s reputation.
“He’s everything you want your teammate to be.”
As the Browns head into a Monday Night Football clash with the San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), Richardson was hardly alone in praise of Beckham as a teammate.
“A guy who would do anything for you if you needed it,” veteran center JC Tretter said. “And that’s what I think everybody has seen from him here, where if you need something, he’ll go out of his way to help you out or do something for you. He’s just been a class act since he got here. There hasn’t been one bad interaction I think anybody’s had with him.
“He’s been the model teammate.”
Pinpointing how exactly Beckham earned a reputation otherwise before the New York Giants jettisoned him to Cleveland in March isn’t easy.
Last year in an interview with ESPN, Beckham did express frustration with his role on a “safe” Giants offense with Eli Manning as quarterback, who wasn’t attempting many passes downfield. (Manning has been benched in favor of rookie Daniel Jones.)
To be sure, OBJ has also endured his share of controversial moments over the years, from fighting with a kicking net to punching a hole in the visiting locker room following a playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2017. He was even suspended a game in 2015 after committing three personal foul penalties while tussling with Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.
Yet just last week, underscoring how, in his words, he’s “grown up a lot,” Beckham found himself in a similar scuffle with Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who at one point had Beckham pinned to the ground and appeared to be choking him. Beckham was flagged and fined. But he also didn’t escalate the incident like he said he wanted to, noting he didn’t want to hurt his teammates any more than he had. Beckham also declared he’d be paying Tretter’s fine for helping break up the fight.
“When you don’t play with a superstar, you don’t really know about him except for what the media says,” Browns guard Joel Bitonio said. “I’ve had teammates that played with him in New York and all of them said that he was a great guy when he was there, but you just continue to hear things on social media and the TV that are saying, ‘Oh, he’s not a good teammate. Oh, he’s a cancer in the locker room.’
“The thing with Odell is he’s so competitive that he wants to win so badly and be so good that it may look like that from the outside. But from the inside you know that he is fighting for his teammates and only wants the best for us.”
Interviews with more than a dozen other Cleveland players revealed the same opinion: OBJ, so far at least, has been the model teammate.
“He’s a celebrity, like he’s famous beyond football, so it’s like everything he does gets scrutinized. … people are going to believe what they want to believe,” said safety Damarious Randall. “But he’s got a great head on his shoulders. He probably cares too much about people’s feelings. … little things that people don’t see.”
Beckham agrees that he’s misunderstood.
“As far as being a teammate,” he said, “I’m probably not what I’m perceived to be by the world.”
When Beckham arrived in Cleveland for training camp, he carried over a tradition from New York, sitting with different groups of players at each meal in the cafeteria.
“I talk to everybody who’s in this locker room, in the weight room, meetings. I talk to everybody,” Beckham said. “You’ve got to get to know who you are battling with. When the whistle blows, it’s just us out there. These are guys. … you’ll forever remember and cherish.”
Though subtle, that routine didn’t go unnoticed in a locker room unaccustomed to having players of Beckham’s star power.
“He’s always joking around with guys and being interactive with guys,” said linebacker Christian Kirksey, currently on injured reserve but who, along with Bitonio, is the longest-tenured Brown on the team. “That’s something that you need. To have a star player like that, still enjoying team camaraderie. … we need guys like him.”
Defensive end Myles Garrett recalled Beckham starting that even earlier with him, taking him out to eat in Los Angeles multiple times over the summer.
“Just wanted to see how my life was going,” Garrett said. “See how we could get better as teammates and build some chemistry.
“Y’all make your characterizations. … but he’s been a good teammate for me and for the rest of my guys on the D-line and defense.”
Rookie cornerback Greedy Williams remembers one player who wouldn’t make the team cut looking for a ride to the team hotel during training camp. Beckham overheard the request.
“OBJ was like, ‘Man, come hop in the truck with me, I’ll take you,'” Williams said. “He’s one of those guys who’s genuine, who’s friendly with everybody. I can’t even remember the guy’s name. Odell, he don’t think of himself above anybody, he don’t ignore anyone. … he’s actually one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever had.”
Upon being drafted by the Browns in the fifth round out of Alabama, rookie linebacker Mack Wilson recalled Beckham being among the very first Cleveland players to reach out to him.
“On the inside, I have not seen a single ounce of somebody that’s difficult to work with. … you see how he approaches the game, what it means to him, and how much he enjoys doing what he does … I can’t say a single bad word about the guy.” Drew Stanton on Beckham
“He was excited that I got drafted here, even knew what type of type of player I was,” Wilson said. “I was like, he’s not this person that everybody thinks he is. An arrogant, cocky guy like that. … he’s most definitely a caring person.”
No rookie felt that more than Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, whose backstory captivated fans and teammates. Sheehy-Guiseppi talked his way into a workout with Browns vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith in Miami. After he was invited to Cleveland for a tryout a week later, Sheehy-Guiseppi, out of money, slept on the grass outside a sports performance facility, where he trained during the day, while waiting for his flight.
Several Browns players recall how Beckham took Sheehy-Guiseppi under his wing, gifting him the cleats the rookie wore scoring an 86-yard punt return touchdown in Cleveland’s preseason opener. After finding out he had been cut, Sheehy-Guiseppi posted a heartfelt message about Beckham on social media. Even though Sheehy-Guiseppi remains unsigned, the two talk regularly, including late last week, and even now share the same agent.
“He’s about relationship building,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, also Beckham’s teammate at LSU.
Sometimes, that comes via gifts — and Sheehy-Guiseppi hasn’t been the only recipient.
“The media always portrays him as a bad guy, but if you ever ask him for anything, he’s going to give it to you,” said wide receiver Damion Ratley. “He’s going to break his back just trying to help you out, because he knows he’s got the means to do anything for you, from his gloves to his cleats, anything like that.”
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 6, 2019
When Beckham was still in New York, he once provided 100 king-sized Casper mattresses to Giants players and staff. On the Friday before Cleveland’s season opener, Browns players found a gift waiting for them at their locker — a pair of his Nike Air Max 720s sneakers.
“I’ve learned a lot, but this is how I’ve always been,” said Beckham, who also surprised the Youngstown Chaney High School football team with shoes. “I’ve always been a guy who. … I’m getting a free bag or whatever it is, I’m going to ask for 50 of them to give them to everybody in the locker room. That’s just how I am. I want to see my teammates have what I have.”
But Beckham didn’t get sneakers for just his teammates, either. He also got them for Cleveland’s equipment and training staff, among others in the building.
“Ain’t nothing different,” said defensive end Olivier Vernon, who played with Beckham in New York before being traded to Cleveland in the offseason. “He don’t carry himself like he’s above the team. Most guys in that position, you could probably see ’em doing it, but he won’t act like that. He won’t carry himself like that.”
Veteran backup quarterback Drew Stanton wasn’t quite sure what to make of Beckham at first. Stanton had a charity golf outing coming up and didn’t know if he should ask Beckham to sign a jersey for it.
“There are certain guys that will remain nameless that I played with, I just stopped asking them, because they were a pain to deal with,” Stanton said. “I went and asked our equipment guys. … and they’re like, ‘He’s unbelievable, it won’t be an issue.’ I asked him to sign it and he was great.
“On the inside, I have not seen a single ounce of somebody that’s difficult to work with. A lot of it could be the media portraying him a certain way. But you see how he approaches the game, what it means to him, and how much he enjoys doing what he does. I have zero issues. I can’t say a single bad word about the guy.”
Stanton said another reason for that is how Beckham has been with kids. In training camp, Beckham handed out cleats to young fans. When offensive coordinator Todd Monken brought kids out of the stands to get Beckham’s autograph, he obliged.
Quietly, Beckham has told the Browns they don’t need to ask his permission to meet with children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation; instead, he has a standing appointment for them every home Saturday.
“He knows that he has that powerful tool,” Stanton said, “and he doesn’t take it lightly.”
Despite his fresh start, controversy has continued to follow Beckham to Cleveland.
He was reprimanded by the league for wearing a $189,000 Richard Mille watch in Cleveland’s opener, in advance of an announcement of his watch deal with Daniel Wellington. Beckham was also sent to the bench on third-and-goal during Cleveland’s opening drive in Week 2, due to the tint of his visor; with OBJ on the sidelines, the Browns had to settle for a field goal.
But as the Browns struggled to a 1-2 start, Beckham was also a pillar of stability in the locker room. As coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield came under fire for the offense struggling, Beckham, aware of the hyper-focus on him, didn’t feed into the negativity with comments or body language — even after the Browns targeted him only once during the fourth quarter of a narrow Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
“He’s just a good teammate,” Mayfield said. “People can say what they want. … Until you really meet him, you don’t know who he is, and we’re fortunate to have him and be around him every day.”
Beckham’s body language was noticeable for other reasons in Cleveland’s potentially season-turning win last Sunday in Baltimore. Though he was held to a career-low two receptions, Beckham’s gravity contributed to wide receiver Landry, running back Nick Chubb and even tight end Ricky Seals-Jones all having big days.
On one play, Beckham’s short curl route helped suck in the defense, which allowed Seals-Jones to break free for a 59-yard reception. Behind the play, Beckham, still without a catch to that point, was pumping his fist.
“If you want to know what kind of character and what kind of player Odell is,” Kitchens said, “put on the tape of Jarvis’ runs, of Ricky’s runs, of him blocking with Nick’s runs and watch where he is when they finally get tackled, all right?
“That will tell you everything you need to know about Odell Beckham.”