Recently, Odell Beckham Jr., one of the most prolific players in the National Football League, has come under scrutiny from the league office for various decisions regarding his on the field apparel. Odell is often in the headlines due to highlight plays or his luxurious off the field lifestyle. However, he recently has found himself as the center of attention for another reason. Within the last month the wide-receiver has violated the Official Playing Rules of the NFL twice.
Simply put, the Official Playing Rules provide all of the current rules that govern how professional football is officiated for a given year. The rules have been voted on by the NFL Competition Committee. However, these rules may be amended, in the offseason, pursuant to the voting procedures provided by the NFL Constitution and Bylaws. This concept allows the NFL to remain flexible and quickly remedy issues arising with its on the field product.
Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle created the Competition Committee in 1968 to provide league uniformity after the announcement that the NFL and the AFL would merge before the 1970 season. The Competition Committee replaced the Rules Committee, formed in 1932, which developed the NFL playing rules as it transitioned away from the college rulebook, which was used in the league’s earliest days.
The Committee makes decisions relying upon feedback from a variety of sources, to ensure their decisions are well informed and reasonably represent a majority. Following each season, the 32 NFL teams answer a survey which asks about player protection, officiating, competitive balance, and technology. Subsequently, the Committee meets with coaches, general managers, players, and NCAA representatives to gather their input about potential changes to the rules.
Recently, Odell Beckham wore a $350 thousand Richard Mille watch while playing in his first game for the Cleveland Browns against the Tennessee Titans. While the Official Playing Rules do not have a rule prohibiting jewelry, the NFL promptly alerted Odell this was a violation by citing Section 4, Article 3 of the Rules. Specifically, Article 4 governs equipment, player uniforms, and player appearance.
In relevant part, Article 3 prohibits “Hard uncovered objects and substances, including but not limited to casts, guards or braces . . . unless such items are appropriately covered on all edges and surfaces by a minimum of ⅜-inch foam rubber or similar soft material.” However, Odell doubled down on his marketing ploy the next week by wearing a $2.2 million Richard Millie watch, on the primetime stage of Monday Night Football for warmups. While the NFL chose not to fine Odell, he did not continue to wear any watches following the game.
In the same game, Odell also violated the Official Playing Rules by wearing a tinted visor and as a result was forced to go to the sideline to replace it during a critical juncture of the game. Article 4 Section 3 provides that “Clear plastic eye shields are optional. Tinted eye shields may be worn only after the League office is supplied with appropriate medical documentation and approval is subsequently granted.” Odell was forced to leave the game because he failed to submit to the NFL any support for his need to wear a tinted visor.
While the NBA encourages player expression through a more relaxed on the court “dress code”, the NFL has made it clear they value uniformity and desire control over what players wear during games. However, NFL players have become more aware of how to maximize their branding opportunities. In the previous NFL offseason Odell Beckham, one of the most marketable players in the league, went from New York City to a much smaller market in Cleveland. While we can argue he should be more focused on the game itself, rather than what visor and watch to wear in the game, his game day production and his ability to market himself through the media cannot be disputed.