By Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)
BEREA, Ohio — The clown shoes made a statement, just not the one Odell Beckham Jr. intended Sunday.
Beckham continued to flaunt NFL uniform code regulations on Sunday at Denver, wearing a pair of white cleats decorated with a “Joker” movie theme, while fellow Browns receiver Jarvis Landry sported a gold pair with a shade of orange lighter than the team’s primary color in their “Color Rush” uniforms.
Both were told by the league to change shoes at halftime or they would not be allowed to play in the Browns’ 24-19 loss to the Broncos.
While Beckham said the Browns altered their uniform plan, a claim disputed by coach Freddie Kitchens and a team spokesman who said it had been set since the summer, Beckham has become a habitual offender. He wore a “plastic” Richard Mille watch in the season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans, seemingly violating the NFL policy against hard objects. The next week against the New York Jets, Beckham was forced to miss part of the game-opening drive because the tint of his helmet visor didn’t meet league standards.
Beckham believes he’s being unfairly targeted. But that’s not the point. His continuing efforts to call attention to himself contradict what he’s saying about his commitment to the team. And he’s not alone.
On Sunday, Baker Mayfield was seen with three forms of facial hair. He arrived at Empower Field at Mile High with a full beard, shaved into a Fu Manchu for the game and appeared at his postgame press conference with a furry mustache. Mayfield would have shaken that off with a “stupid question,” and an “I’m just being me,” response had he been asked, but he put himself in the same kind of me-first spotlight that Beckham did.
The unnecessary drama adds to the dysfunctional atmosphere surrounding the Browns’ 2-6 start. It also contradicts their supposed pursuit of accountability and attention to detail.
It reflects poorly on the leadership of Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey and leads one to believe that not all share Kitchens’ hope that they would morph from a group into a team during their Oct. 20 bye week.
An air of selfishness permeates the Browns, whether the players will acknowledge it or not. And at this point during the season, with Beckham, Mayfield and Landry allowed to do or say whatever they want without public repercussions, it appears too late to rein it in.
Before the Oct. 27 loss to the New England Patriots, Beckham sounded like he was groveling for a trade to New England, going on and on about how he’d dreamed of playing with Tom Brady and about the goat-covered shoes he’d purchased to give the quarterback. Last week, Mayfield made headlines when he disrespected a longtime beat writer and cut short his pre-Broncos press conference because of a line of questioning he didn’t like. As recently as before the Oct. 13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Landry continued to criticize the coaching staff for not getting the ball to him and Beckham enough.
Kitchens said he didn’t believe Sunday’s shoe fiasco affected the team. That was a short-sighted view, not acknowledging how it goes against the values and culture he is trying to instill.
“I feel like any time if it’s got potential to hurt the team then that is not a good thing, but they did not hurt the team,” Kitchens said. “I did not recognize the cleats during the game. I do not really look at their cleats. It was brought to my attention that they need to take the cleats off. I asked them to take the cleats off and they took their cleats off. There is no dysfunction there.”
Yet the three highest profile players on the roster continue to talk about helping the team and doing the little things right and being accountable, but don’t practice what they preach.
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Kitchens said he’s never going to be satisfied with the team’s culture because it evolves, but he sees it changing.
“The more and more people understand your expectations you have on them, they end up putting those same expectations on each other, and I think that is where you get culture,” he said. “We have made leaps and bounds as far as how we approach our business on a daily basis at practice and how we approach our meetings. I think our guys are pretty prepared on Sunday, and I think they would reveal that same thing. Now coaching … and execution has to be better on Sundays.”
Approaching their business doesn’t just mean studying film at home, listening in meetings or concentrating in practice to avoid pre-snap penalties. It also means not leaving the locker room in rule-breaking clown cleats that call attention to themselves. To the Browns who feel they’ve achieved status in the league, there’s a long way to go before anyone in this franchise proves worthy of G.O.A.T. shoes.