PHOENIX – I should be thankful to Marshawn Lynch. By bolting his “interview” session after five minutes Tuesday afternoon, Lynch allowed me to stage an early getaway from the most repellent event in sports, the NFL’s annual Super Bowl Media Day circus.
Sorry to seem ungrateful for the privilege. I love my job the other 364 days, but I despise Media Day even more than I imagined. It’s actually gotten worse since the NFL had the bright idea to take it out of football stadiums and put it in arenas, making things even more crass and claustrophobic.
The NFL, never shy about squeezing every last dollar out of its fawning public, now charges admission. Thousands paid $28-$32 to watch and listen as their heroes sat on podiums and engaged with reporters, who tried to avoid being concussed by roving TV cameras or knocked over by a radio guy in a barrel.
Most players and coaches made the most of it. Some of them even offered insightful answers. I saw Bill Belichick laugh once. Rob Gronkowski sang a few lines of the University of Arizona fight song.
But Lynch again felt the need to separate himself and affirm his constitutional right to remain silent. Sort of. Lynch was facing a large fine – reportedly as large as $500,000 – if he refused to show up and give the appearance of cooperating.
So regrettably, Lynch turned himself into a huge story, same as a year ago. Half an hour before his scheduled appearance, there were already about 100 people crowded around Podium 6, waiting to see if Lynch would appear.
It was a demeaning exercise, pressing in with the faint hope that Lynch might actually come and give thoughtful answers. Maybe he’d experienced a change of heart and decided that if his teammates had to sit for an hour and talk, he might as well give it a try.
No such luck. Lynch arrived at around 12:20, wearing sunglasses and a backpack. He took his seat atop the riser, where two bottles of Gatorade had been placed in front of him. He quickly established the ground rules.
“Hey, I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Lynch said, a smug smile on his face. “So you all can sit here and ask me all the questions you want to, but I’ll answer with the same answers. So you can shoot, if y’all please.”
Someone asked a question. I didn’t hear it, because they had the music blaring inside the US Airways Center at the start of Seattle’s session.
“I’m here so I won’t get fined,” Lynch said. Another question was muttered from the front. “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” Lynch said.
So it went for about five minutes. There were 29 questions. Lynch answered every one in virtually the same way.
At one point, a girl to my left called out “Marshawn!” She looked to be about 10 or 11 years old.
“Hey, you do a lot for kids,” the girl said. “What advice would you give kids on how to be a good football player?”
“I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” Lynch replied.
Deion Sanders sidled up to Lynch and asked three or four questions. Sanders got the same basic response, though Lynch did tell him that they would speak later and added, “God bless you, man.”
Lynch walked to the front of his podium to retrieve a bag of Skittles that had been thrown from the stands. He walked back to his seat and consulted his phone, which had apparently been set to 5 minutes. He announced “Time!” He walked behind the stage and was gone.
Evidently, Lynch felt he had met his obligation under the NFL’s media policy by appearing for at least five minutes and answering every question in some fashion, however redundant.
If Lynch doesn’t get fined for that performance, the league’s media policy is a joke. By announcing that he was there only to avoid being fined, he was spitting on the NFL shield and mocking the media.
Lynch’s appearance met the strict letter of the league media policy, which requires that players be available for interviews. He has been skirting the policy for some time, offering stock, meaningless replies. In one recent session, he answered every question with “Thank you for asking.”
But I agree with D. Orlando Leadbetter, head of the Pro Football Writers Association of America. Leadbetter contends that while Lynch’s act might meet the minimum standard, it’s not “meaningful availability” and a waste of time.
The PFWAA should stand up for itself and demand that Lynch, who has been fined $100,000 this season for shirking his media responsibilities, be fined. Don’t let the NFL get away with more of its flimsy PR.
Michael Bennett, the Seahawks defensive lineman, says he enjoys the media give-and-take and considers it a way of “giving back to the fans.” But Bennett defended his teammate’s right to remain silent.
“It’s his personality,” Bennett said. “It’s like when you’re dating a woman. You can’t be too aggressive when you’re trying to get to first base. I just think sometimes you guys are too aggressive, so you never get the home run.”
Uh, so it’s the media’s fault for coming on too strong? It sounds like Lynch is being made out to be the victim, which must be familiar to Bills fans.
I suppose that woman was being overly aggressive when Lynch ran into her with his car on Chippewa that time. The police were too aggressive when they arrested him for carrying a concealed weapon in L.A. No doubt, bar owners were too aggressive when they objected to Lynch bringing his own booze into bars.
You can find sympathetic stories that say Lynch is “misunderstood.” We’re reminded of his Family First charity, his generosity with children and his difficult upbringing in Oakland. You could say the same for many pro athletes. It doesn’t justify his boorish behavior.
We tried to understand Lynch when he came to the Bills. His mother, Delisa, said not to judge him by appearances. “Get to know Marshawn,” she said when he was drafted in 2007. “You’ll know he’s a much different character.”
Lynch never let people in. He was a miserable character who shunned attention and caused trouble off the field. If he was uncomfortable with interviews, fine. But don’t cry about being misunderstood. He brought his problems on himself, and from what I can gather, he’s still doing it.
He has said he shouldn’t be “forced” into it. He’s making almost $8 million a year to play football. There are certain sacrifices, like being on time and practicing. He says he’s not a “media whore,” as if there’s nobility in not speaking. Maybe he thinks cooperating would cost him valuable street cred.
But it shouldn’t be that hard to give a few stock answers to football questions now and then. Instead of talking about avoiding fines, Lynch could be answering questions about his chances for the Hall of Fame. He’s the toughest running back in football today. But where’s the joy?
I asked Lynch if he’ll speak with the media if he wins the MVP in Super Bowl.
“I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”
That’s just fine. But imagine if Lynch becomes the first running back in 17 years to win MVP, then refuses to talk about it. I’d hate to think any media types would leave him off the ballot for that very reason.