Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to talk to the media has created a no-win situation where the player, media and league all look foolish. That’s why I’m willing to quit hounding him.
You’ve all seen the videos of those uncomfortable, awkward, demeaning (for everyone involved) Super Bowl media sessions of Marshawn Lynch that could have been outtakes of “The Truman Show.”
If you think it looks ugly from your vantage point, let me assure you it feels even more sordid from the inside. This might surprise you, but the vast majority of reporters I’ve talked to — the ones with a soul, at least — are as repulsed by the whole mess as you are.
This was a farce that should have never been allowed to take place. Yes, farce. There’s no other word to describe it. No one benefits here — not the media, who look like sniveling fools, much as it pains me to say that. Certainly not the NFL, which is being played like a Stradivarius.
You could say Lynch benefits, because he’ll probably get some endorsement deals out of all this. Darren Rovell, the ESPN business reporter, tweeted Thursday that Lynch has received $2.6 million in equivalent advertising money for his Beast Mode brand by wearing a hat from that clothing line three days in a row.
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Suffice it to say, whatever fines Lynch gets out of all this will be covered. But I think it’s a big stretch to say, as some have, that all this is a calculated business decision. That’s certainly not the vibe I was getting.
Watching Lynch lash out Thursday, wondering why reporters kept hanging out at his podium when he’s made it clear he wasn’t going to talk, was to see a man truly angered and upset at having to play out this charade over and over.
And this is a switch for me: I agree with him. For a time, I clung to the long-held belief that the media are a vital conduit between fans and athletes, and thus players had an obligation to submit to interviews.
I still believe in the first part — and yes, I’m aware the players can now skip the middle man and communicate directly with the public through social media or player-friendly outlets like Derek Jeter’s “Players Tribune.”
I think there’s still a market for independent voices to interview, interpret and present these ballplayers as multifaceted human beings. And to probe them for insights about their profession, since it intensely interests so many people.
It’s the “obligation” part that I’m going to back away from. Yes, I know it’s in Lynch’s contract to do interviews (and the minimum requirements are not onerous: two relatively brief sessions a week during the season, and three sessions at the Super Bowl).
But there’s no weighty First Amendment principle at play here. This isn’t the Pentagon Papers, or Edward Snowden leaking classified documents.
Other athletes, like Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton, have shut down the media, and the world kept spinning. Other players didn’t stop talking. Carlton was eventually left alone, and the delicate player-media balance was largely unaffected.
The idea of the NFL rule is to compel players to talk, but in fact, I see the Lynch situation doing the opposite. Rest assured that many players around the NFL and other leagues are taking note of what Lynch is doing. They see the backlash against the media, and the increasing perception of Lynch as the aggrieved party in this transaction, and a sort of martyr syndrome is developing.
When it comes to a showdown between a star athlete and the media, the media is going to lose almost every time in the court of public opinion.
I predicted a few weeks ago, when Lynch first started answering questions by repeating the same phrase, that other athletes would emulate that strategy. Sure enough, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos are among those who did just that. Lynch on Thursday gave a “shout-out to Westbrook,” though it was unclear if he was referring to Russell.
No doubt, Lynch could have made this far easier on himself by just answering the questions from the start. That would have toned down the feeding frenzy once he got to the Super Bowl.
Believe it or not, most people just wanted to ask Lynch basic, football-related questions about his season. At least, until his non-talking took on a life of its own, and the questions got more pointed.
I’ve said it before, but the shame of all this is that Lynch has a lot to say, and a compelling way of saying it. We know that from the rare interviews he has done over the years, including an extensive, remarkably eloquent one last season with ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha.
The phrase, “It’s all about the action, boss,’’ is poetic in its own way. One of the best quotes to emerge during Super Bowl week actually came from Lynch — in the mock news conference during a Skittles commercial. Asked what it feels like in Beast Mode, he replied, “You don’t feel in Beast Mode. It feels you.” It looked to me like an ad-lib.
Some have said Lynch has an anxiety disorder. But his mom, Delisa Lynch, told The Seattle Times in December, when asked if her son was an introvert or shy, “By no means!”
He’s simply a guy who doesn’t like to speak to the media, for whatever reason. I’ve heard a few: He feels he was mistreated earlier in his career, he has trust issues because of his rough upbringing, he doesn’t want to be singled out at the expense of teammates.
So, yes, I have empathy for Lynch when he says, as he did in biting tones Thursday, “But y’all are mad at me. And if y’all ain’t mad at me, then what y’all here for? I ain’t got nothing for y’all though. I told you all that. So y’all should know that. But y’all will sit here like right now and continue to do the same thing.”
The whole three days were degrading, humiliating, dehumanizing — pick your adjective — for both sides. To continue to parade Lynch in front of the media so he could spit out one phrase and then sit there until his timer went off … well, who exactly was that benefiting? The media felt it in case Lynch decided this was the day he was going to talk, but trust me, we all felt dirty. Few of us got into the profession for showdowns like this.
Some of my colleagues feel it’s important to keep fighting this issue. But fight for what, exactly? Fight for the fans? The majority of them have spoken loudly and clearly: Let Lynch be.
Fight for journalism? As many clichés and bored answers as I’ve heard this week, I’m not sure that’s one to go to the wall for, either. No Lynch would be better than silent, defiant Lynch, sitting on stage uttering the same sentence over and over while the two sides glare at each either.
The vast majority of players will continue to cooperate with the media, and enough will be insightful and astute that this whole weird process will keep moving forward. I’ve devoted my adult professional life to trying to make sports, and its practitioners, compelling and fun for readers.
I’m willing to continue that pursuit without hounding Marshawn Lynch.