A social-media video showing Odell Beckham Jr., the former LSU and current Cleveland Browns receiver, handing out clumps of cash to LSU receivers minutes after the College Football Playoff national championship game, resulted in LSU issuing a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
The snippet of video, which went viral before going private, recorded a portion of the wide and raucous celebration on the Louisiana Superdome field in New Orleans after LSU's 42-25 win over Clemson clinched the national championship. It showed Beckham with receivers Justin Jefferson and Jontre Kirklin. A CNN reporter appeared on the scene and asked Beckham about the heart LSU demonstrated in a 15-0 season, and Beckham directed the reporter to direct the question to Jefferson, who caught nine passes for 106 yards in the game.
Jefferson and Kirklin are both juniors, and Jefferson on Wednesday declared for the NFL draft.
Because of Beckham's affiliation with a school for which he caught 143 passes between 2011 and 2013, any payments from him toward LSU players would constitute a particular violation of NCAA bylaws. Initially LSU, having won its first national championship in 12 years and its third since 2003-04, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge that it believed the money to be novelty money, from a player noted for antics.
On Wednesday, LSU corrected that impression with a statement: "We are aware of the situation regarding Odell Beckham Jr. interacting with LSU student-athletes and others unaffiliated with the team following the championship game Monday night. Initial information suggested bills that were exchanged were novelty bills. Information and footage reviewed since shows apparent cash may have also been given to LSU student-athletes. We were in contact with the NCAA and the SEC immediately upon learning of this situation in which some of our student-athletes may have been placed in a compromising position. We are working with our student-athletes, the NCAA and the SEC in order to rectify the situation."
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, fielded a question Tuesday on the Barstool Sports podcast "Pardon My Take" about whether the cash Beckham was distributing was real, and Burrow said, "Yeah, I'm not a student-athlete anymore so I can say yeah."
The video appeared amid a climate in which the national perception about major college athletes receiving compensation seems to have undergone a shift. In early September, the California state legislature approved a bill by a 73-0 vote in the Assembly and a 39-0 vote in the Senate, allowing athletes in California schools to profit from their names, images and likenesses. Multiple state legislatures have followed in weighing the premise.
The video also appeared after a year in which LSU had acknowledged it was cooperating with the NCAA in an inquiry related to LSU fan and booster John Paul Funes, who pleaded guilty in June 2019 to embezzling more than $800,000 from the Our Lady of the Lake hospital foundation, for which he was chief fundraiser, and began a 33-month federal prison sentence in Indiana in December. In the process of that case, the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report reported that $180,000 of the money went to the father of a former LSU offensive lineman who finished playing in 2015.