Yes, I’ve seen the video of Odell Beckham Jr. sitting in a hot tub filled with naked man-water singing “Sexual Healing” while teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie emerges from inside the same hot tub. And yes, I’ve seen ODB and his homeboys doing choreographed dance moves. I’ve seen photos of him and friends shirtless, standing close to one another.
And yes, I’ve even seen the one of him in the rainbow underwear.
Odell Beckham Jr. is not gay.
Or maybe he is.
Which brings me to two points: Black men are still archaic when it comes to anything remotely outside the male-centered construction of masculinity, and we really need to grow up.
In the staunch and limited definition of black maleness as defined by most black men, there are only two categories in which men’s behaviors live: straight and gay. You’re either one or the other, and there is little room for debate.
Undefined sexuality doesn’t live in the barbershop conversation of black masculinity. So because Beckham’s antics, his shirtless dancing and hot tub shenanigans can’t be identified on the straight scale, he must be gay. Don’t believe me? His friend and former Louisiana State University teammate Kavahra Holmes, who danced with Beckham in one of his viral online posts, had to speak about his sexuality because the internet just wouldn’t chill.
“It’s crazy how we been brothers for so long and if anybody really knows us know anywhere we go they see us being clowns and dancing but of course it’s made as ‘we gay,’” Holmes wrote on Instagram.
“Strictly brotherhood and just cuz we dancing having fun don’t make us gay.. I dance with our [sic] without him and vice versa so the ‘gay’ comments really funny .. We laughing … But we gone keep dancing lol,” he continued.
Keep dancing, indeed.
Clearly, Odell Beckham Jr. and friends are not concerned about how their sexuality is perceived, and, in fact, I’m convinced that ODB is trolling us. He knows that his sexuality is a topic of discussion, and he keeps doing things that have us talking. His carefree expression of black maleness is a beautiful exploration of boundary-pushing.
In fact, I find it hilarious that one of the top five players in one of the most brutal sports doesn’t care what you think about who he is. He’s Dennis Rodman minus the drugs and other off-the-court slipups. He’s Omar Little from The Wire minus the boyfriend, trench coat and sawed-off shotgun. He doesn’t care what you think of him and his carefreeness. He’s expanding the idea of masculinity and brushing up against all who believe football players should be beer-can-crushing barbarians. And, clearly, he likes it this way. At this point, I really think that Odell Beckham Jr. sits at home thinking about how he can grow the idea of masculinity when not dominating the league’s best corners.
Let’s not forget: Odell Beckham Jr. is a product of a fitted generation—a generation whose jeans are slim and shirts are small; their dances are loose and their hair is dyed; and they aren’t as obsessed about sexuality as generations before them. This generation not only has given us Frank Ocean, Lil B, Jaden Smith and Young Thug but also has fully embraced their non-gender conformity. They have embraced their uniqueness, and the generation before them—the ones whose parents screamed on them for wearing their clothes so big and baggy—can’t stop judging the uniqueness of the generation after them.
Who cares if Odell Beckham Jr. likes dancing with his shirtless friends? Or if he and his teammates kick it in the hot tub (no time machine)? Not me. Times are changing; masculinity is begging to have the definition expanded a bit to include individual expression. And this isn’t the first time. NBA players did it in the ’70s with their flamboyant dress. Hell, Russell Westbrook and Cam Newton continue to push the boundaries of men’s fashion. Former NFL player and college standout Michael Sam did it after he came out as a proud gay man.
We can’t continue holding black men to the simplest, most barbaric, most archaic form of what being a man entails. If so, we will always be limited. We will always be expressionless, grunting sloths, and aren’t we more than that? Odell Beckham Jr. does whatever he wants, and that includes dogging your favorite team’s defense. Maybe the focus really needs to be on how to stop the fun he’s having on the field (looking at you, my beloved Washington Redskin and Beckham nemesis Josh Norman), rather than worrying about the fun he’s having off of it.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.