When Odell Beckham Jr., the balletic wide receiver with the action-hero charisma, was drafted by the New York Giants two years ago, he embarked on a life as a star athlete in New York that comes with two inevitabilities: limitless branding opportunities and unavoidable tabloid dust-ups. Ask Joe Namath. Ask Derek Jeter.
This past week, he got a crash course in both, as the dapper flanker found himself dragged into a media scuffle with Lena Dunham just days before he introduced his clothing line during New York Fashion Week.
The tussle (which in reality was as one-sided as a mugging) erupted last weekend. In Ms. Dunham’s interview with Amy Schumer in Lenny Letter, Ms. Dunham’s online feminist newsletter, the “Girls” creator recounted her experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Gala this last spring, at which she wore a black-tie pantsuit and owlish black-frame eyeglasses.
“I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr., and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards,” Ms. Dunham said in the interview, which was posted last Friday. “He was like: ‘That’s a marshmallow. That’s a child. That’s a dog.’ It wasn’t mean. He just seemed confused.”
In Ms. Dunham’s imagination, the grid star’s “vibe” seemed to suggest he was thinking, “Do I want to have sex with it?” (she used an earthier term for “sex,” and yes, she said “it”).
Explosive stuff. The only problem was that Mr. Beckham had not, in fact, said any of it, nor had he even spoken to Ms. Dunham at the gala, as Ms. Dunham quickly clarified, explaining the comments as a failed attempt at humor.
In the estimation of social media and the press, it scarcely mattered: Dunham vs. Beckham was suddenly the hottest bout since Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.
“Maybe Odell Beckham Jr had watched an episode of Girls and assumed Lena Dunham doesn’t talk to black people,” wrote @jneslo in a typical tweet.
The news media soon picked up Ms. Dunham’s fumble and ran with it. “The Way Lena Dunham Talks About Black Men is Peak White Entitlement,” read one Huffington Post headline. Forbes took it further, asserting that “Lena Dunham is a Monster of Our Own Creation.”
The meta-analyses kept coming, despite Ms. Dunham’s lengthy apology posted on Instagram Friday evening. “Despite my moments of bravado, I struggle at industry events (and in life) with the sense that I don’t rep a certain standard of beauty and so when I show up to the Met Ball surrounded by models and swan-like actresses it’s hard not to feel like a sack of flaming garbage,” she wrote. “This felt especially intense with a handsome athlete as my dinner companion.”
The 30-year-old writer and actress added, “most importantly, I would never intentionally contribute to a long and often violent history of the over-sexualization of black male bodies — as well as false accusations by white women toward black men.”
Still, one large question remained: What did Mr. Beckham think of all this? Did he even know who she was?
The question remained largely unanswered Tuesday evening at the debut of the 13 x twenty collection, a limited-edition collaboration between the 23-year-old Pro Bowler and the New York designer David Helwani of the brand twenty tees.
The preview took place at a cocktail party, hosted by GQ magazine and Bloomingdale’s, at the Gent, GQ’s speakeasy-like event space in a penthouse on Broad Street, high above the financial district.
As young GQ staffers in trim blue suits and narrow ties sipped OBJ cocktails (orange juice, bourbon, honey and lemon bitters) among the pool tables and leather club chairs, models standing on a brick riser showed off the signature pieces, most of which are available in runs of 250 or fewer pieces, exclusively at Bloomingdale’s: punkish distressed hoodies, tapered heathered fleece jogging pants and a black-on-black varsity jacket featuring an embroidered image of Mr. Beckham’s head on the back.
Around 8:45 p.m., the Giant whom GQ called “one of the most stylish men alive right now” (he was featured in a July fashion spread in the magazine) strolled in, his trademark bleached-blond, mushroom-cloud hairdo hidden under an olive hoodie of his own design.
“I’m trying to do big things, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on the field or off the field,” Mr. Beckham said of his fashion ambitions, his diamond-encrusted dog tag necklace glittering with each camera flash. “It’s a look that’s in. People are able to dress it up or dress it down.”
Mr. Beckham, who has been spotted in the front row at fashion shows alongside Anna Wintour, said he was not thinking of a second career as a designer. But, he said: “I’ve always liked to dress up, I’ve always liked to look good. You look good, you feel good, you play good.”
“You know, basketball players aren’t always the best dressers,” he added.
With his rising profile off the field, however, he becomes a target — for the gossip sites (he recently found himself batting away reports of a romance with Khloé Kardashian), and apparently, for tuxedo-clad HBO stars at A-list galas.
Asked if Ms. Dunham’s comments struck a nerve, he seemed confused. “Honestly, man, I didn’t …”
A publicist by his side attempted to intercept the question: “He came here to talk about fashion — or football.”
But the receiver at least made a grab for it: “It’s life. There are so many things that go on, you catch some of them, you don’t catch some of them, you just — I don’t know man, I don’t have much to say about that. I have to learn more about the situation.”
Standing nearby, looking modelish in a sleek black cocktail dress, his mother, Heather Van Norman, seemed unconcerned that her high-wattage son might wither under the New York media glare.
“He gets hit daily with something new,” said Ms. Van Norman, a former collegiate all-American in track. But, she added: “We’re Christians. We believe in God, and we believe that God has a plan for all of us. So if I took snapshots and reversed them in time, and saw him from when he was an infant on up, it’s just kind of all these flashbulbs going off in these pictures. He was destined to be here.”
Her gridiron-star son would seem to agree. “I don’t think the lifestyle that I have, the things going on in my life right now, you could put that on any 23-year old kid,” Mr. Beckham said. “But, you know, I was raised right and I’m prepared for whatever.”
Even so, he added, “I would say, ‘Be careful what you ask for.’”