Practice squad players are important to every NFL team.
Every franchise can have up to 10 players on their practice squad to do just that: practice. The players come to work every day and are there with the 53 players on the active roster, whether it’s in the weight room, in the locker room, or on the field, where they play a major role in preparations for that week’s opponent by working on the scout team. And practice squad players frequently find themselves getting the call to the main roster when there is a need.
There are major differences between active roster players and practice squad players, though. The biggest, of course, is money: Practice squad players get paid much less, and are paid week-to-week. They can be cut at any time. And practice squad players usually do not make road trips with the team. Most of the Giants‘ practice squad players watch home games from a booth, in fact.
But, somewhat inexplicably, a practice squad player has become a central figure in the whole Odell Beckham Jr. saga.
It was Carolina Panthers practice squad safety Marcus Bell that got into an altercation with Beckham, black baseball bat in hand, prior to Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.
So, how did a Panthers practice squad player make the road trip? And then end up holding a bat while jawing with one of the league’s best players to, it seems, help ignite a major firestorm?
According to Panthers coach Ron Rivera, Bell was on the trip as a reward for his hard work.
“This was a ‘For your hard work.’ These guys, they work hard, they do a lot of things for us,” Rivera said Tuesday when asked during a press conference in Charlotte, N.C., why Bell was at the game.
“This was an opportunity to reward them. And we take five on one game and five on the next away game. So we’re going to have five in Atlanta (where the Panthers play Sunday). It’s just a reward. These guys, they don’t get a lot. They’re out there every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a practice player complain about their opportunities. This was just a chance to be there, be with the guys. And unfortunately, again, it got blown and taken out of context.”
Rivera defended the presence of the bat, saying his team has brought one out on the field multiple times this season as a motivational/inspirational totem, and it was not used to intimidate Beckham. And Rivera defended Bell, who he said denies using any homophobic slurs toward Beckham. There have been media reports alleging Panthers players threatened Beckham with the bat, as well as hurled slurs his way.
“Marcus has given me no reason not to believe what he told me,” Rivera said. “He said nothing. I heard nothing, several of the people that were around him heard nothing, to be construed as something homophobic.”
Well, he clearly said something. Here’s the video:
A video posted by D.Phanthavong™ (@nygiantsnj) on Dec 21, 2015 at 4:54pm PST
But, Rivera said he is not convinced the videos that are out there show anything malicious.
“Unless there is an audio or something out there to show me. I’ve seen some of those clips, but honestly those clips, they’re benign,” he said. “Their people are going to say one thing or the other, their people are going to interpret it the way they want to interpret it. But the truth of the matter is, give me some concrete evidence so I can sit down and get this taken care of. If not, than let’s move on to the next thing, okay?”
Bell ignored an interview request in the Panthers’ locker room on Tuesday, according to The Charlotte Observer.