Why Odell Beckham, Jr., Was Kicked Off a Plane and Muhammad Ali Was Not
What both athletes could have learned from the 13th-century secret that keeps the skies friendly whenever you fly.
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When star Wide Receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.,
boarded a 9:30 AM flight on the morning of November 27, he was in the catbird seat.
The popular free agent had been trending during the holiday weekend because fans were laying odds as to whether he’d soon sign with the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants.
Or perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, or the San Francisco 49ers. Beckham had said he would make his decision after Thanksgiving.
During the first part of the day, that’s all sports fans were talking about when his name came up.
But later that day, he became front page news for a different reason.
News footage showed police escorting him from American Airlines Flight 1228 because he allegedly failed to respond to requests to fasten his seatbelt and appeared to be nodding in and out of consciousness.
ABC News reported that the Miami-Dade Police Department issued a statement indicating that its officers had been dispatched to a medical emergency.
According to the police, the plane’s flight crew dialed 911 because they were concerned Beckham’s health might worsen during the long 5-hour flight to Los Angeles.
When the police arrived, Beckham agreed to fasten his seatbelt but was reportedly told it was too late. He eventually left the plane without incident, but only after all the other passengers were required to deplane.
After the incident, the airline released the following statement:
American Airlines flight 1228, with service from Miami (MIA) to Los Angeles (LAX), returned to the gate before takeoff due to a customer failing to follow crew member instructions and refusing to fasten their seatbelt. The customer was removed and the flight re-departed at 10:54 a.m. local time.
Despite all the official statements, something about this story doesn’t feel right.
It’s possible that the summaries released by the airline, the police department, and the media outlets accurately reflect what happened on Flight 1228.
But as a former member of the news media, I know that what gets reported is often a mere parroting of what “authorities” have said.
A video shows Beckham being escorted from the plane by police. Another video shows passengers talking about what they witnessed and maybe how they felt about having their flight delayed by a spoiled celebrity athlete.
You see reports like that, and you might think: “Not cool, Odell. Why couldn’t you just put on the seatbelt?”
The truth lies with the flight attendant.
What really happened when he or she first asked Beckham to fasten his seatbelt? What words were said — and by whom? Why did the incident escalate to the point where the police were called?
Did Beckham behave in an arrogant manner? Did a tired and fed-up flight attendant see an opportunity to put a highly paid sports celebrity in his place?
What else was going on here? I’m not a fan of intrusive, privacy-invading smartphone recordings, but that’s a video I’d like to see. Not the one showing another male passenger apparently breaking up with his weeping girlfriend while the Beckham incident played out elsewhere on the plane.
After Beckham was removed from the plane, his lawyer Daniel Davillier released this statement:
Earlier today, Odell Beckham, Jr., boarded a morning flight in Miami without any problems. The flight was delayed after boarding and prior to take off. Mr. Beckham fell asleep with his blanket over his head, which is his normal practice for long flights. He was awakened and told that the plane was back at the gate and that he needed to get off the plane because he did not put his seatbelt on when asked. He responded that he was asleep, and that he would put his seatbelt on at that time. He was informed that it was too late, and that either he would have to get off the plane or everyone would have to deplane.
That’s a very different reading of the incident.
And while it’s a lawyer’s job to represent his client’s interests, it’s easy to see why one might question all the noise around what happened on Flight 1228.
One version makes it seem that Beckham was a disruptive character. But no charges were filed, and he simply made other flight arrangements. Later that day, without mentioning the incident specifically, he tweeted that it was a “comedy hour,” adding: “Never in my life have I experienced what just happened to me. I’ve seen it all.”
Let’s look at what happened during a similar incident with Muhammad Ali
This is why I think the Beckham situation might have been blown out of proportion. When Muhammad Ali was asked to fasten his seatbelt back in the day, he ignored the flight attendant’s guidance.
Later, she noticed he had not done so and again instructed him to fasten his seatbelt. In response, the champ said:
“Superman don’t need no seatbelt.”
“Superman don’t need no airplane neither,” said the flight attendant.
The great Muhammad Ali fastened the seat belt.
Bottom line: A little levity goes a long way. I’m not saying the official reports are lying or are wrong. I just wonder if this embarrassing Beckham incident could have turned out the same as what happened with Ali.
If only one of those two people — the football player and the flight attendant — had found a little humor instead of drawing a line in the sand and triggering an unnecessary and unpleasant incident. One that undoubtedly took a little joy out of the long Thanksgiving weekend for the hundreds of other travelers delayed nearly an hour-and-a half because of it.
I think moments like this are a snapshot of the current zeitgeist. Everything is stuck in some kind of duality—either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal. Fox News or Main Stream Media. There’s no nuance. No gray area. No working things out.
I prefer to look at the world the way Rumi did in this poem.”
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense..
Rumi’s entire poem can be summed up in a single word. Namaste. The divine essence in me salutes the divine essence in you.
When we are in that place—nobody gets kicked off the plane.
©2022 Andrew ‘Jazprose’ Hill
Thanks for reading. If you missed my Thanksgiving Day post, here’s a link to the updated version with new title: “Harness the Love.”
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The cool flight attendant giving Ali what for, almost as cool as Rumi.
Love the juxtaposition of the two incidents. We need a bit of humor and understanding towards each other these days. It’s a shame headline (only) news readers will think O.B. acted in an entitled, rude manner. There’s definitely an us-against-them attitude with some flight attendants these last few years. I’ve witnessed it myself.