It’s a safe bet Louisiana State University football coaches and athletic department staff will think twice before inviting Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to another national championship game.
In the wake of the former LSU star causing his alma mater potential NCAA compliance problems by handing out wads of cash to players after the Tigers had defeated Clemson 45-25 on Monday night, Beckham has now become the subject of an arrest warrant for an incident that occurred around the same time in the LSU locker room.
Two days ago, video surfaced on social media showing Beckham seemingly mocking and then slapping the buttocks of a uniformed Superdome security guard. On Thursday, the New Orleans police department issued an arrest warrant for Beckham. This development signifies that a police officer (or officers) provided a sworn affidavit concerning the incident. The affidavit referenced sufficient evidence and facts to convince a judge or magistrate that there is probable cause of Beckham committing a crime on the guard.
Beckham is accused of simple battery. Simple battery refers to the intentional use of force on another person. Slapping a person without his or her consent, be it by fist or with an object, is grounds for a battery charge. Under Louisiana law, simple battery is a relatively low-level misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, when serious physical injuries are caused by battery, the charge can be elevated to aggravated battery.
As is often the case, one change in the facts could have altered the aftermath of this incident. Namely, if the uniformed officer had been a police officer, Beckham could face a charge for battery of a police officer. Under Louisiana law, a conviction for battering a police officer—a law enforcement classification that includes not only commissioned police officers but also sheriffs, marshals, correctional officers, constables and parole officers—leads to the defendant spending not less than 15 days, and up to six months, in jail. The jail sentence can’t be suspended, either.
According to NOLA.com, Beckham apparently targeted the 48-year-old security guard because he had discouraged LSU players from smoking cigars to celebrate their victory. NOLA.com also reports that the guard, who later contacted the New Orleans Police Department to press charges, wanted to punch Beckham after being slapped. However, he restrained himself “due to the jovial atmosphere of the locker room."
It’s unclear whether Beckham has already complied with the warrant. To comply, Beckham’s attorney would contact relevant authorities. The call would begin a process that would likely include, among other things, the scheduling of an initial court hearing.
So long as Beckham is cooperative, he is unlikely to face jail time. Prosecutors might be willing to agree to pretrial diversion with Beckham. In such an arrangement, the misdemeanor charge would be dropped provided Beckham satisfied other conditions—such as apologizing to the man he slapped, paying a fine, completing an education course and performing community service.
Beckham, who is from Louisiana but has lived in other states, might already be out-of-state. If he is, he’s beyond the reach of Louisiana law enforcement. Their jurisdiction ends at Louisiana’s borders. States can attempt to extradite a charged defendant who is located in another state. Extradition involves a formal request made to a judge or magistrate in the state where the defendant is located. States, however, usually do not pursue extradition for misdemeanors.
Beckham has ongoing reasons to travel to Louisiana. For one, his family resides there. For another, whether or not Beckham’s still welcomed by LSU going forward, he’s a booster of the Tigers football program. Beckham is thus unlikely to avoid Louisiana merely in order to avoid a warrant, particularly for such a low-level offense. Another reason why Beckham will comply: Failure to respond to a warrant can lead to additional criminal charges, including for contempt of court.
Other possible legal fallout
There are at least four other possible legal consequences for Beckham.
First, the guard could sue Beckham for civil battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Although the man was not physically hurt, he probably felt degraded and bullied. The fact that the video became public only worsened matters. When coupled with diagnosable mental distress, humiliation can be compensable in a lawsuit. Also, at least based on the video, the man didn’t appear to provoke Beckham. As noted above, Nola.com reports that the guard merely asked players to refrain from smoking cigars. The guard also chose to respond to the slap with restraint and didn’t escalate the situation.
Still, a lawsuit is unlikely. The man didn’t seem to suffer any meaningful injuries, outside of perhaps embarrassment and resentment. Also, he probably doesn’t want to belabor the controversy, even if Beckham would be a “deep pocketed” defendant who might be tempted to pay him off. Another reason not to expect a lawsuit: The man was acting within his capacity as a security guard. This arguably means he assumed certain risks as part of his occupation.
Second, the NFL or the Browns could punish Beckham. Under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell could fine or suspend Beckham for conduct that damages the league’s image. Alternatively, the Browns could punish him for conduct detrimental. While the incident is controversial and reflects poorly on Beckham—especially now with the issuance of an arrest warrant—it probably won’t warrant a league or team punishment. The calculous would be different had Beckham injured the guard.
Third, companies that pay Beckham in endorsement deals could contemplate cutting ties with him. Endorsement contracts typically include morals clauses, which allow an endorsed company to suspend or terminate a deal when the athlete engages in misconduct that damages his or her brand or that of the company. Beckham has signed lucrative deals with Nike and other businesses. Don’t expect them to drop Beckham over the locker room incident—it’s not “bad enough” to trigger that kind of outcome, especially with a star player. Also, companies that do business with Beckham know and accept that he sometimes causes controversy. If they had concerns about his judgment, they probably shouldn’t have signed him to endorsement deals in the first place.
Fourth, and likely of greatest concern to Beckham as a diehard LSU football fan, the athletic department could tell him to stay away. LSU is likely concerned that the NCAA could punish the school for Beckham’s cash-to-players stunt. An NCAA punishment would be more likely if it believes that LSU didn’t adequately monitor Beckham at the championship game. A video of Beckham hitting a security guard in the LSU locker room isn’t going to help LSU credibly maintain that it kept a close eye on him. LSU might help its cause with the NCAA if it tells Beckham to keep his fandom at a distance.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and the Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.
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