Fashion icon. Father. Soccer star. Underwear model. International ambassador. The man picked by women as the one to cheat with.
But as he journeys into the dusk of his career, having become a common face in the American soccer scene he once changed, his pristine image may be taking a hit.
Beckham has been known to get as testy in matches as the next guy, but none seemed to cause as much fervor as Saturday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes.
After nailing a free kick that was as jaw-dropping as it was usual for Beckham, he logged a few more memorable moments on the field — but not the good kind. Beckham drew a yellow card after drop-kicking a ball toward an injured player, then was part of a shoving match with Quakes players and their funny-looking mascot after the game ended. (See videos of all three incidents here.)
Beckham hadn’t been happy about the way the San Jose players had been handling themselves, but this didn’t seem like a good-spirited calling out. Beckham, his Bryce Harper-like mop of hair flapping with sweat, showed no righteous anger in goading his opponents. He just looked disheveled and angry — a man not in control of his emotions.
Beckham has had quite the cushion throughout his career, whether it be when reigning with Manchester United and Real Madrid or being crowned the king of American soccer when he came stateside in 2007. As Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl showed in his book, The Beckham Experiment, mostly everything Beckham said when he came to America with the L.A. Galaxy had to go. He influenced team decisions and, overall, pushed Major League Soccer to get things moving in a classier and more professional direction.
But Beckham’s requests weren’t always limited to the game — as a superstar, he received plenty of partisan treatment. That caused many problems within the team and even had the fan base rumbling. Eventually, Beckham and his teammates worked through it, and it looked like Beckham’s lasting reputation would be that of taking his lumps and putting in his time, doing what was best for soccer.
But after the fits Beckham threw Saturday, you have to wonder whether behavior like this will now start to chip away at his good standing in the eyes of fans. He’s endearing as the Burger King salesman, respected as the envoy for England, and revered for what he can do in soccer. But just like any other star, temperamental behavior and poor treatment of opponents should not be acceptable, no matter how great or popular a player is.
Beckham’s outburst is likely a blip on the sports radar, one of those moments everyone has on days when they’ve had enough of how their opponents are acting. But it could also be a turning point for Beckham, for the good. He’s not always going to have the talent and drawing power on which he’s built his many kingdoms, but he can keep the respect and admiration of his fans. He just needs to not put himself above the game, demand special treatment or treat the sport like it’s his to reprimand. Basically, he needs to be extra careful to be a good sport from now on, as no one likes a spoiled star. Beckham, of all people, should know how one unsportsmanlike move can threaten a career.
As he continues to put out superhuman efforts despite working on 37-year-old legs, Beckham can enjoy the support of a world of fans who love all that he is, from the haircuts to the free kicks to the personality that’s been both a lightning rod and praise point for so many years.
But when it comes to twisting the game to suit his needs, Beckham needs to take a step back and fall in line. “Hothead” needn’t be added to the list of adjectives describing his character. The only thing Beckham should be bending are those killer shots.