I’ve seen and heard and read all the hubbub about Marshawn Lynch over the past few weeks. I’ve shared a few initial thoughts in Facebook exchanges with a few people who didn’t go over very well. I’ve posted a few fleeting thoughts about it that were largely ignored. And I’ve turned the issue and people’s opinions about it over and over in my mind a few times to try to understand exactly what is going on with it. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that, aside from my admiration of the man and his work on the football field, and my utter shock that he wasn’t given the ball to run on the second to last down of the SuperBowl against the Patriots last Sunday (that was probably one of the most ignorant plays I’ve seen since I’ve been watching football, and that’s been a long doggoned time), that I am sick and tired of people making Marshawn Lynch out to be some kind of victim of media harassment at the least, a victim of media-driven racism at the worst, and some kind of hero for demonized young Black men overall.
I know; half of y’all have already started cussing me out at the end of that last sentence. A couple of you have probably already called me a coon. Oh well. I’m going to tell you why I feel this way anyway.
It has been said that Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like talking to the media, and that he feels he shouldn’t have to. And because he feels he shouldn’t have to, the media should just leave him alone. Well…media participation is a contract requirement that is common to every NFL player AND coach, and the NFL is not the only sport that has this requirement. If you watch any sports at all, you’ll notice that after every game, the coach and a couple of players from the losing team always talk to the media. Now, if my team lost a game, I wouldn’t want to talk to anybody about it, especially not a bunch of story-hungry media hounds. But week after week, game after game, the players and coaches from the losing team do it, regardless of how they feel. Do you know why? Because they are contractually obligated to. So the media isn’t inclined to leave an athlete alone just because he (or she) doesn’t want to talk to the media. I’m sure Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson did NOT want to talk to the media bout the outcome of the SuperBowl, but talk to the media about it they did. This is as much a part of the game as training camp and personal conduct policies, so people thinking that Marshawn Lynch shouldn’t have to fulfill this obligation simply because he doesn’t want to is naive. And frankly, acquiescing to the whims of coaches and players is not the media’s job. They’re paid to get a story, to get quotes, to capture emotion. They’re not harassing Marshawn Lynch by asking him questions, they’re doing what THEY are paid to do.
Marshawn Lynch also isn’t a victim of media harassment because he isn’t alone in being pressed for statements by the media, and for being fined for not talking to them. In in 2009 LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas – both NBA players – were fined for not talking to the media. In 2010, Minnesota Vikings’ Receiver Randy Moss was fined for not talking to the media. These are just three cases I could think of right off the top of my head from recent years. But to be fair and thorough, I did a little digging and I found this interesting list of athletes across the sports spectrum who have had issues with the media, and who have been fined or punished in some way because of it. Some of these athletes resorted to physical violence against members of the media, but some merely declared that they didn’t like the media, and wouldn’t talk to them. Again, talking to the media is a contractual obligation, and the media representatives are merely doing their job; a job which is not contingent upon how the athletes feel that day.
Then there’s the idea that Mr. Lynch’s treatment by the media is another example of the demonization of Black men in the media. Some believe that Mr. Lynch is standing up to a racist media that would distort his image, twist his words, and make him look bad because he’s a Black man. Look, there are plenty of times that some in the media really have demonized a famous Black man in order to sensationalize a story, to get more readers, viewers and ratings, or because it just fits their particular narrative. I’m not convinced, though, that this situation is one of those times. When I consider that the aforementioned list of 20 media-averse athletes contains plenty of White men, I can’t get on the “this is a racial issue” bandwagon.
Then I had to realize something that I think is very critical to how some people view this situation: so many of the people who believe Marshawn Lynch is making some sort of stand for protecting, or refusing to let the racist media dictate, his image — and by extension the image of the modern Black athlete — are much younger than I am. This might seem irrelevant, but it isn’t. See, most of these much younger folks may not know a lot of football or sports history. So they wouldn’t have known about those aforementioned 20 media-allergic athletes. And if they didn’t know about those guys, who are pretty contemporary, they certainly wouldn’t have known about one of the biggest jerks in my memory of the NFL – Jim McMahon. I’m actually surprised he didn’t make the list.
In the 1980s, Jim McMahon came into the league as the quarterback for the Chicago Bears. He was young and cocky and an attention-seeking media hog. His antics cost him fines and negative press and the disapproval of football fans and the general public alike — except when he played. We loved him then, because he was actually pretty amazing for a while. So amazing that the Bears won a SuperBowl with him as quarterback. You read that right…the CHICAGO BEARS won a SuperBowl. But this was over 30 years ago, before some of the folks whose articles and blogs I have read in the past few weeks were even born.
McMahon’s football-related shenanigans were very similar to Marshawn Lynch’s. McMahon was fined for wearing an unapproved headband during a game; Lynch was fined for wearing of a pair of unapproved green shoes in a game recently. McMahon frequently conducted interviews and press conferences with obvious disdain for the media; Lynch has conducted interviews and press conferences with obvious disdain for the media. McMahon stayed in plenty of trouble for his behavior, with the League and with the law while in the NFL. He was called all kinds of jerks and thugs and brats and punks and boors (yes, some reporters said he was boorish – journalists seemed to have a better vocabulary back then, I suppose), by fans and many in the media. He had his supporters, but a lot of people just didn’t like the guy.
Jim McMahon is White.
So, remembering how a young, cocky, attention-grabbing, crazy-talented young White quarterback was treated with almost exactly the same disapproval from the fans, and was the focus of the same ravenous attention for more reportable foolishness by the media, I have a hard time believing that Marshawn Lynch is being treated any differently than Jim McMahon was. So I have a hard time believing that race has anything to do with how Lynch is being treated. Or at least…how he perceives he’s being treated. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
I also reject the idea that Marshawn Lynch is protesting the White male control of the NFL over Black male bodies, taking the revolutionary stance of refusing to say “How high,” when the White man says, “Jump.” (I didn’t make that up; I read that somewhere and it’s a summary-paraphrase of an idea.) I think that’s…kind of ridiculous. No…not kind of ridiculous. It is utterly ridiculous.
First, all the reporters who are interviewing Mr. Lynch aren’t White, so “the White man” isn’t commanding that he jump, as some people seem to believe. Sports journalism is a pretty multi-ethnic pot these days. While most major outlets are owned by White men, there are a lot of reputable African-American owned outlets that are represented at major games, and there are plenty of well-respected African-American reporters there, too. Second, Mr. Lynch actually did a pretty normal interview with Deion Sanders last year before the SuperBowl. Sort of. Deion Sanders is a sports analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. Last I checked, those outlets are not owned by Black people. But hey, maybe Mr. Lynch just has a tab bit more respect for Mr. Sanders because Mr. Sanders is an NFL legend himself. I could buy that and walk away happy (sort of), if it were not for this press conference that Mr. Lynch happily did for Skittles. Skittles, which is reportedly his favorite candy. I’m cool with that – I love me some Skittles, too. It’s just that it doesn’t seem from this interview that Mr. Lynch has a problem with some White people asking him all kinds of stupid, goofy, non-football related questions. So…yeah, I don’t buy the idea that Marshawn Lynch is standing up to a White-run, racist media that is out to destroy his image and reputation. And as I said before, what Mr. Lynch is doing isn’t revolutionary at all. It isn’t even original.
And speaking of his image and reputation…
As much as some in the media sometimes gets things wrong, twists or omits facts, and sometimes just outright lies to sensationalize a story, no one has done more put a little tarnish on Marshawn Lynch’s image and reputation than…Marshawn Lynch. His run-ins with the law preceded him to Seattle, and he hasn’t always been such a nice guy while with the Seahawks, either.
Just to cover all the bases that I’ve seen thrown out there, I also don’t agree with the notion that Mr. Lynch is all that shy around cameras or crowds. He might be a very private guy; OK, I’ll buy that. But painfully shy?? Painfully shy in front of crowds when he plays in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, in front of some of the largest crowds every single week for several months a year? And for the past two years, has has played in a championship game that boasts the largest viewership of any television program EVER each year? OK…OK… believe it or not, I won’t completely discount that because I suffer from anxiety attacks, and they are monstrous and terrifying and crippling and completely unpredictable, at least for me. They can hit me in the car driving to work or in the shower washing my hair; it’s like a hateful surprise from my hormones that’s always unannounced and inconvenient, to say the least. But if he does have an issue with some type of crushing shyness or anxiety, then how does he pull off endorsements and late night talk show appearances?
So, OK, if the problem isn’t media harassment, if it isn’t racist media manipulation, if it isn’t a social disorder-based aversion, then what is the issue with Marshawn Lynch’s behavior?
And why in the world do I care??
I think…it’s all about money.
Listen, I am not saying that Marshawn Lynch is a bad guy. I’m really not. He’s an incredibly talented young man who has some growing up and maturing to do, and he’s wearing his level of maturity on his sleeve, I believe. And, judging from the Skittles interview and the segment on Conan, he can also be a very nice and very funny and very charming young man. But he’s not this hero for Black or any other youth, not with his attention-grabbing behavior. And he’s not taking a stand against any racist system in the NFL or in the media. What I do believe is that this same young man who has such a disdain for, and shyness in front of, the media is the same young man who has marketed that supposed disdain and shyness to sell products and to get more attention, which only puts him in even more demand. Watch that Progressive commercial again. Watch that Conan segment again. That’s right, Mr. Lynch seems to be able to turn that media hate on and off at will, spewing it like venom in the SuperBowl press conference, but using it like a precision tool in commercials. He seems to have brilliantly created a persona that he is capitalizing on. And I’m not mad at him for that. He should probably teach a marketing class for it. What I do have a problem with is people propping him us as some kind of “hero” to young Black men and boys, saying that he’s modeling how to take a stand against the racist manipulation of the Black male image. The only thing Mr. Lynch is modeling is how to not fulfill obligations of your job that you agreed to do, how to create major media attention for doing it, and how to still get paid while breaching a contract you signed.
Think about it…do we really want to teach our children that if they’re rich and talented enough, they don’t have to do what they said they would do if they don’t like it? If we’re OK with that, then how do we explain to those same kids that it’s NOT OK when politicians and billionaire company executives do it, but it’s perfectly fine when our favorite athlete does it?
When I think of athletes taking a stand, I think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two US track and field athletes who actually did protest against the persistent racial inequality in America during the award ceremony of the 1968 Olympics. I think of the members of the Cleveland Browns wearing “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” t-shirts. I think of all the athletes across the sports spectrum – professional and amateur – who wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts after the killing of Eric Garner. I don’t see Marshawn Lynch’s behavior as taking a stand against anything that has been unjustly done to him, or to anyone else, for that matter. I know he acts like he’s aggrieved and he acts like he’s being targeted and put upon by all this attention, but he’s not any more of a target of the media than what he made of himself, and he’s certainly no more of a target than any other elite professional athlete who does attention-grabbing things when in the spotlight. And Mr. Lynch knew what he was in for when he signed that contract. Everybody who signs that contract knows exactly what they’re in for with the media – they’ve seen it all played out in the lives of their football heroes that they grew up watching on television! There’s no mystery to this game!!
I believe Marshawn Lynch’s behavior has netted him lots of media attention, which helped give him a catchy angle for those endorsements, which has been good for him. He’s not the first athlete to do that, and he will not be the last. But it seems that in our rush to defend and lionize a young Black man who is seems to be creating his own controversy and benefiting from it, we’ve set a questionable standard for our children. As amusing as Marshawn Lynch’s antics may have been, I can’t cosign or support them, because I think doing that is bad for us.
Oh…the other thing that kind of galls me about this whole Mysterious Marshawn media storm? Is that once again, for the second year in a row, the media attention has been all on the showboats on the Seahawks team, while the amazing young Black man at the helm, Russell Wilson, has been almost completely overlooked.
But that’s just my own little side-issue…