St. Francis and freedom from distraction

(c) USA Today Sports

Three receptions; the second-worst performance of his career.

23 total yards; the worst of his career.

“The word’s out – the recipe, I would think, is known by every corner in the league,” said ESPN SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt. “Whether you can physically stop him or not, you’re gonna try to mess with this guy’s mind.”

And, if you do, you’re likely to succeed against New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. After two embarrassing performances, last week against the Washington Redskins and his nemesis Josh Norman, and then again on Monday night against the now 4-0 Minnesota Vikings, teams know how to take the otherwise dangerous one-handed-catch machine out of the game.

Odell Beckham Jr.
(c) ESPN

You have to wonder what Giants quarterback Eli Manning and head coach Ben McAdoo think when they see Beckham whining and punching equipment on the sidelines. Every player gets emotional; that’s sometimes necessary for improvement and success. Beckham’s antics, though, have become purely a distraction. If nothing changes, will Beckham soon be shown his way out of New York the same way that DeSean Jackson was shown the door from the Philadelphia Eagles a few years back?

I also have to wonder how Giants team leadership is handling Beckham’s distractions. Quarterback Eli Manning has tried on occasion to calm his wide receiver. Have coaches and other teammates, too?

There will be a lesson here, but it remains to be seen. Either Beckham will remove the distractions from his play, or he’ll learn the hard way, perhaps through a trade, that antics aren’t the way to success.

Because I can’t speculate on what goes through Ben McAdoo’s mind, I decided to ask a couple of Neumann University coaches how they’d handle Beckham’s unfocused and distracting presence.

Len Schuler, head coach of Neumann Softball, wondered why the Giants’ coach isn’t benching Beckham. “I think [Beckham] is losing sight of [the Giants’] main goal, which is to try and win the NFC East and get into a playoff situation. His actions are detrimental to the play… it’s going to cost them in the long run.”

“My team is coincidentally working on focus, because if you think about it, everything out on the field, when you’re training and competing, can be a distraction” said Neumann Field Hockey head coach Sarah Kurpel. “We need to convey to our athletes that of course we want to win, but at what cost? If you’re on the sideline having an imaginary fist fight with the post, what are you doing that is productive to achieve the goal of excellence?”

On this Feast Day of St. Francis, it’s worth remembering how Francis gave up his earthly possessions to focus on his mission of building up God’s home. Free from distraction, Francis sometimes encountered difficulties even feeding himself, but built up a true personal discipline that characterized his work on earth and his sainthood since. Francis worked diligently to be Christ-like.

Football players rarely take the field pursuing the same goal, but St. Francis’ laser focus and incredible discipline to the point of poverty from all but spiritual necessities does suggest a recipe for success. If he were to put on pads and a helmet today, he surely would not be throwing tantrums on the sidelines. Francis would focus on the game, on the unity of his team, on discipline, and on dependence on each other and coaches in pursuing a well-played game.

As Coach Kurpel tries to teach her student-athletes, it is worth minimizing distractions. Francis’ own physical poverty demonstrates that freedom from distraction leads to new energy. Sometimes, it requires a physical removal of those distractions. It did for St. Francis, and we will see if it does for Beckham and the New York Giants. Whether the goal is spiritual discipline or athletic excellence, a poverty of all but what truly matters opens athletes and people up for focus, diligence, and perseverance. Eyes on the goal – just like St. Francis.


About Jeffrey B. Eisenberg, M.A. // Coordinator, New Media, Communications and Events, ISSCD

At Neumann, Jeff works to build the Institute’s communication strategy with a focus on developing valuable resources relevant to student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and all groups the Institute strives to reach. He also serves as a co-chaplain of the Neumann Cross Country and Track & Field teams. Jeff holds a B.A. and M.A. in Strategic Communication from Villanova University.

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