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No benefit of the doubt for Lynch

A few days after the Bills drafted Marshawn Lynch in May of 2007, his mother told me this town was going to love him. Delisa Lynch had one request for Bills fans. Don't judge her son by his appearance.

"Get to know Marshawn," she said, "and you'll know he's a much different character."

The fans were ready to judge Lynch by his actions, by the way he carried himself as a pro athlete in a small, rabid NFL city. He was portrayed as a family man, a mama's boy, a kid who escaped the mean streets of Oakland to become a star running back at Cal-Berkeley.

Lynch was the anti-Willis McGahee, a mature young guy who would embrace Buffalo's culture, not disdain it. He said he wasn't worried about the nightlife. Lynch said he was concerned with the business of being an NFL player.

But it's getting hard not to judge. Lynch has been a Bill for two years and the indiscretions are mounting. Last June, he admitted striking a woman with his SUV on Chippewa Street and leaving the scene, nearly one month after the fact. In the months before the hit-and-run, Lynch had been tossed out of two bars for bringing in his own liquor.

Now, Lynch is facing felony charges of carrying a concealed weapon in Southern California. It's unclear whether Lynch had a license for the gun when police arrested him last Wednesday, or why the cops approached the car.

Still, it's one more troubling, and unsurprising, episode for the Bills star. If you'd told me last week that a Bill would be arrested, Lynch would have been atop the list. Not Donte Whitner, Jabari Greer, Chris Kelsay or any of the countless other good guys on the team.

I imagine the Southtowns police would concur. Last June, a local police source told The Buffalo News that the incident on Chippewa had come as no surprise. He called it a "pattern" of behavior.

Lynch has the benefit of an athlete's millions and the legal representation that comes with it. He paid a $100 fine for the Chippewa incident. He'll likely get the most favorable outcome in this case. Maybe his only offense in Culver City was being a black man in a Mercedes-Benz. It happens often enough.

But Lynch no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. He waited weeks to admit his role in the accident on Chippewa, creating a PR nightmare for the Bills.

He showed no real remorse. Lynch made a mumbling apology in court. Then he didn't speak to the media until the week of the Oakland game in September. When someone had the gall to ask about the accident, Lynch sneered and ended the interview. You'd have thought he had been the victim.

The Bills have to be reeling. One, there's the scary notion of what might happen if a player carries a gun into a public place. Two, the team could suffer on the field if Lynch is found guilty.

The NFL doesn't appreciate this kind of behavior. The league is less likely to go easy on Lynch after Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh last November in a New York City nightclub. Burress missed the rest of the season, and his absence hurt the Giants' chances to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Many pro athletes feel targeted and feel they need to pack a weapon when they're out in public. The wise ones accept the unusual circumstances of being a highly paid athlete. They make the choice to avoid bad situations. They do what's best for their team, their reputation, and their city.

Lynch might be suspended for the first four games of the season. At that point, the Bills might start to wonder if he's worth all the trouble. Maybe if that happens, he'll finally wake up and realize he has to change his behavior.

If not, the people of Buffalo will make the very judgment that Delisa Lynch feared: That her son's a punk.

e-mail:jsullivan@buffnews.com

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