On stage with Marshawn Lynch

Media Day is Tuesday at Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona. Fans are allowed to watch media from around the world interview players from the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots.

Much attention at the University of Phoenix Stadium will focus on what Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch will not say to the media. At last year’s Media Day, the 28-year-old running back spent roughly six minutes at the mandatory interview session.

“I’m just about the action,” he told the media. “You say ‘hut’, and there’s action. All the unnecessary talk, it don’t do nothing for me.”

The Oakland, Calif. native, who played his college ball at California-Berkeley, has been fined $100,000 this season for not talking to media and twice for making obscene gestures after touchdown runs.

Lynch is hardly the first athlete to shun the media. Steve Carlton, the Hall of Fame pitcher, went years refusing to talk to baseball writers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could be moody and rude with the media during his long NBA career. Perhaps no one in recent memory has held a greater disdain for the media than Barry Bonds.

Find a critical sports column and you’ll find a disgruntled athlete.

At first, I considered Lynch’s silence with the media as an act of quiet dignity in a locker room that included the often-boisterous Richard Sherman. Then there is the issue of the NFL trying to force grown men to talk to the media, a rule that Lynch has mocked by answering questions with one word replies like the interview after a November game when he said, “yeah” over and over again.

But the more I observed Lynch— from his crotch-grabbing after touchdowns to his deep bonds in a crime and drug-infested section of Oakland to his public love of Skittles to his gold cleats to his appearance nude in ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue— it’s evident that he has perfected a very stylized persona, where his silence is just one very cultivated facet of his act.

Seahawks general manager, Ken Schneider, recently told the Seattle Times, “I kind of love [Marshawn’s] act.”

We don’t usually think of our athletes as performers in the way that we think of our movie stars and music icons.

Lynch is a bruising running back that gets into “beast mode,” an unexplainable frenzy of ferocious running not seen since Earl Campbell emerged on the NFL scene in the late 1970s. All Lynch needs is a tiny seam in the offensive line to scurry through to find a nasty collision with a reluctant defensive back.

But “beast mode” is a major component of his act and his relevance in the game. On the sidelines, his teammates are known to say to him, “We need you to go into beast mode.”

Lynch’s fiery, manly, urban, get-out-of-my-way, all-business swagger allows him to keep most of the world at a comfortable distance.

You don’t hug Marshawn after touchdowns or jump all over him, as is the routine of many NFL celebrations, you shake his hand like a man.

Marshawn is always in control of the action.

There is nothing wrong with this kind of self-making and promotion of idiosyncrasies.

Muhammad Ali was as much a professional talker and showman as he was a great boxer. Ali always said that his pre-fight banter with Joe Frazier and others was about promoting fights. Everybody around him was in the service of perpetuating this stagecraft, including the media.

The history books will remember Ali’s stance against the Vietnam War and his battles with Frazier, but what will endure in our collective memory, perhaps most, is his voice that rolled in preacherly cadences with “I shook up the world” and “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Lynch isn’t that kind of performer. He’s more Jim Brown than he is Ali. But like Ali, he is at risk of his antics overshadowing his legacy as an athlete.

With a commanding presence, Lynch knows how to communicate his precious ideas and values with little or no words at all. You know from his lack of zeal for interviews that he doesn’t share the NFL’s media values.

HIs crotch -grabbing is an expression of his manliness and bravado. His tattoo-laden torso is an explicit reminder of where he comes from: a single mother in the hood who played the role of mama and daddy. Nobody but his mama can tell him what to do. You don’t earn his trust very easily.

On Tuesday during media day at Super Bowl XLIX, Lynch will likely say the bare minimum to avoid a fine by the league in an attempt to not further cause distraction in his team’s preparation for the big game on Sunday against the Patriots.

But do not fear he will be in full costume performing his patented role. In many ways, Lynch is at the mercy of a media willing to carry on a dialogue with him over his skills of avoidance.

He will go on acting his part, while many of us will continue to worry simply about what’s coming out of his mouth.

He might say to himself, “What more do I need to say? I’m here. Isn’t that enough? Can’t these people understand what I’m saying?”

Come Sunday evening, the Seahawk faithful hope that Lynch doesn’t detour from the character and script that he knows best.

—Farrell Evans

 

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  1. Greg 1:31 January 27, 2015

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