Odell Beckham Jr. was escorted off a Los Angeles-bound flight at Miami International Airport on Sunday after police said the free agent wide receiver appeared to be slipping “in and out of consciousness” on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Law enforcement and fire rescue crews were summoned to the tarmac after the flight crew, trying to wake Beckham “to fasten his seat belt,” became concerned that he might have been “seriously ill,” according to a statement from the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Once officers arrived at the scene, “the flight crew asked Mr. Beckham several times to exit the aircraft, which he refused,” the police said. Only after the entire airplane was evacuated did the 30-year-old athlete agree to disembark as well.
“He was literally the last passenger off the plane,” Carlos Gauna, who had been sitting in business class on the morning flight, told The Daily Beast.
Gauna, a 42-year-old photographer and filmmaker, was traveling back home to California from Brazil. He’d recognized Beckham, who “looked just fine,” while boarding the flight and making his way to his own seat. It wasn’t until the plane was “on the runway, basically” before there was any indication that something was wrong, he said.
A partition curtain separated them, so Gauna couldn’t see exactly what was unfolding in first class as their pilot announced they’d be returning to their gate over a passenger-related issue.
But “it was uncharacteristically quiet” up front, Gauna said, prompting speculation from others aboard as they taxied back to the airport. Some people began murmuring that it must be a medical emergency, with a few pulling their masks out and putting them on. But at another point, he said, a flight attendant stopped by to mention that the crew were having trouble getting a passenger to comply with regulations.
Then, for the next 45 minutes or so, they sat and waited as “the paramedics and ambulance showed up,” Gauna said. “And then they left, and then we had security and police come. And then we were asked to deplane.”
In footage taken by passengers afterward, Beckham can be seen walking through the crowd and away from the gate, surrounded by several law enforcement officers. “Mr. Beckham was escorted to the non-secure area of the terminal by the officers where he made other arrangements,” the Miami-Dade Police Department said.
The other passengers were eventually allowed to re-board, and the plane took off. Gauna estimated that “the whole ordeal ended up delaying things by two and a half hours,” though he added he considered the incident more of an inconvenience than anything, especially if Beckham had experienced an actual medical emergency.
Later on Sunday, Beckham’s attorney, Daniel Davilier, released a statement that contradicted much of the police narrative, blaming the start of the “unnecessary” incident on an “overzealous flight attendant.”
Prior to takeoff, “Mr Beckham fell asleep with his blanket over his head,” Davilier said, “which is his normal practice for long flights. He was awaken [sic] and told that the plane was back at the gate and that he needed to get off the plane because he did not put his seatbelt on when asked.”
“He responded that he was asleep, and that he would put his seatbelt on at that time,” the statement continued. “He was informed that it was too late, and that either he would have to get off the plane or everyone would have to deplane.”
Hours before his lawyer’s statement, Beckham had taken to Twitter to seemingly address the matter, writing: “Never in my life have I experienced what just happened to me… I’ve seen it all.” In a later tweet, he added: “imagine livin in a world where I just went about my way… and attention came to me, for doin what I was doin on the field… I never craved shxt in my life but Love n peace.”
His final public comment on the matter as of Sunday night was a laughing emoji accompanied by the phrase “comedy hr.”
“Forcing us off the plane because you were unresponsive and unruly is not comedy to the hundreds of folks trying to get home dude,” Gauna responded on Twitter. “Not cool man.” (He told the Beast that his words came from a place of exhaustion.)
“It’s been a very long, long day of travel for me,” he said.
Beckham is not expected to face any charges over the incident, which was first reported by TMZ. The free agent is reportedly still scheduled to meet with several teams this week, including the Dallas Cowboys—who are believed to be the front-runners in the race to sign him—as well as the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
“I also asked two other playoff teams if today’s incident would dissuade them from exploring OBJ as a [free agent],” league reporter Jordan Scultz tweeted on Sunday. “Both said no.”