A Carolina Panthers practice squad player carried a black baseball bat onto the field in pregame warm-ups Sunday and was motioning with it toward Odell Beckham Jr. while making comments to the New York Giants receiver.
Beckham felt threatened, and it helped put him in a certain state of mind for a game in which he was penalized three times for unnecessary roughness, including a helmet-to-helmet hit on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The pregame incident, which was captured on video by Giants Daily, could provide context to what precipitated Beckham's actions during the game, for which the receiver had been widely criticized. Beckham was suspended by the NFL for one game Monday.
A team spokesman confirmed a practice squad player had a brief exchange with Beckham while he was holding the bat. The source identified the practice squad player as Marcus Ball. Norman later grabbed the bat but didn't engage in pregame words with Beckham and never motioned it toward the receiver, according to the source. An NFL Films camera captured images of Norman holding the bat.
Meanwhile, a Giants source told ESPN's Ian O'Connor Monday that Giants players on the field heard Panthers defensive players direct anti-gay slurs and expletives at Beckham before the game, and the source believes that also helped set the confrontational tone for the game.
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond denied Monday that any member of the team used the bat to threaten Beckham. Drummond said the bat tradition is "nothing new.'' The Panthers have carried bats onto the field during pregame warm-ups throughout the season. The bats are meant to symbolize home-run plays and "bringing the wood."
Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere, who was placed on injured reserve last week with a fractured leg, took to Twitter to say the Panthers had the bats to symbolize his presence. He said he was surprised to hear there's an issue with the NFL.
Come on now my boys carry the bat with them as it symbolizes my presence still being with them at the game and the NFL has a problem???— Bené Benwikere (@BigPlayBene) December 21, 2015
I carried the bat out the tunnel against Atlanta and my teammates held it during warm ups that game to pic.twitter.com/SQTcIy8mrF— Bené Benwikere (@BigPlayBene) December 21, 2015
And on top of that I believe Odell is an awesome player met him a few times but during the game in between the lines there was no bat— Bené Benwikere (@BigPlayBene) December 21, 2015
Drummond confirmed that players took the bat to New York as a way of remembering Benwikere.
Norman also received a penalty for unnecessary roughness in the game and said Monday in an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike program that he will appeal any fine he might receive from the NFL.
In the interview with ESPN Radio, Norman said he was happy Beckham was likely to be suspended and said the Giants receiver should have been ejected for his helmet-to-helmet hit that forced Norman to undergo testing for a concussion, which he passed and was able to stay in the game.
Coughlin, however, made it clear he wasn't OK with the way things went on the field Sunday.
"We all know that the personal battles have no presence in the game of football, not at any level," Coughlin said, echoing the message he said he gave his team in Monday's meeting. "They're a distraction. They break concentration. They prevent the great game of football from being played as a team, team sport.
"That being said, there are qualities that Odell Beckham, this young man, bring to this football team the likes of which I've never seen. He has great energy. He has great enthusiasm. He gives great effort. He does it literally every day that he walks out on the field. I will not defend his actions yesterday, because they were wrong and this particular franchise and organization does not tolerate that. But I will defend the young man, and the quality of the person. I will defend him as long as I am able."
ESPN's Dan Graziano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.