By Jared Max
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The last time I got into a fist fight, I was in junior high school.
There was a seventh grader who strutted around like he owned the place. One year older than him, though physically smaller, I allowed misguided testosterone to get the best of me.
Under a guise of unintentional action, I shoulder-bumped this student a few times in the hallways. Outside the school entrance one day, he had enough of my act and pushed back. We swung at each other and arranged to fight after school, a few days later.
Sometimes, one’s swagger can provoke others to act violently.
In junior high school. And, in the NFL.
At Giants practice on Tuesday, injured wide receiver Victor Cruz told reporters that he watched opposing defensive backs target teammate Odell Beckham Jr. during Saturday’s exhibition game.
“I felt some of those DBs were gunning for him,” said Cruz, who was a spectator at Saturday’s game because of a calf injury. “From the sideline you could see it. When you’re running a vertical route and you take a peek at the safety and see him, head down, trying to spear you.
“When guys have an opportunity to get an interception and they don’t even go for the ball, that’s what you don’t want to see.”
Question: Was there intent to injure or, to essentially, pitch high and tight to keep opposing hitters brushed off the plate — out of their comfort zone?
Targeted five times by Eli Manning and unable to make one catch, Beckham appeared to have a bullseye on his back — one that Cruz believes will remain.
“You’ve got to expect it every game,” he said. “I dealt with that a little bit as well. He has to deal with it and battle through.”
While I cannot tolerate any attempt by an athlete to physically injure another, I understand the Jaguars’ mentality. If I were an NFL head coach or defensive coordinator, I would instruct my players to do everything they could — within NFL rules — to intimidate Beckham.
If I were the Giants’ head coach or offensive coordinator, I would instruct my sophomore stud to save his one-handed-catch theatrics for practice and rare times in games when it is the only way to snare a reception.
More than any other major North American pro sport, football is a game where it’s best to keep a low profile. Knowing the inherent desire to knock an opponent’s block off, Beckham might be forced to grow up. Quickly.
There is no way to know when an opposing player may act like he is still in junior high school.
P.S. During my eighth-grade fight, while in position to pulverize my “opponent,” I had a moment of clarity. Hunched over his body on the ground while using my right fist to punch the side of his head, a light flashed. While punching, I wondered, “Why am I doing this? I don’t want to hurt this person.”
With that, I gave him a good push and stepped away. While he came back at me, my heart was not into it any longer, and we mostly danced around the ring until local cops — and the hundred or so students who had been watching — scared us away. Since, I have not struck another person.
Hopefully, Beckham Jr. will do what he can to avoid violent actions that result from others’ jealousy.
Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.