NEW YORK — It’s times like this that I understand why some folks hate the sports media.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch didn’t want to talk this week and barely fulfilled his media “obligations.’’ He was late for all of them, and left early every time. He looked like a little kid sitting waiting for a polio vaccine shot.
I say, “Who cares?’’ If he doesn’t want to talk, it would have been OK to let him take the week off from Super Bowl “media obligations.’’ It’s not as if one of the head coaches refuses to talk. There has been plenty of media availability without much contribution from Lynch.
Obviously, it doesn’t take much for Lynch to sit still and deliver standard, soulless answers. A lot of guys are really good at this. They learn that’s is easy to pacify the sound-bite crowd with “I’m just happy to be here’’ and “I just want to help the team.’’ I’m also aware that if we excuse Lynch, more guys will want to avoid interviews. Next thing you know, it’s anarchy at the Super Bowl.
But I’m OK with guys who don’t want to talk. Truly.
This gets to one of the great misconceptions about the athlete/media relationship. There’s a widely help perception that we insist that they talk and we take out our punishment on those who don’t grant good interviews.
Not me. In my view, every player has a right to remain silent. Manny Ramirez exercised that right for long stretches and we didn’t think any less of him for it. Manny never said anything of substance on those occasions when he did grant interviews. Steve Carlton didn’t talk for the final decade of his career and sailed into the Hall of Fame on his stellar mound résumé.
It’s not the guys who don’t talk that bother me. It’s the guys who have no respect for the jobs of other people. In my world, the bad guys are the athletes who make reporters and camera crews wait, then bail out a back door; guys who get thrills by inconveniencing other people; guys who waste other folks’ time. The true frauds compound this transgression by joining the media as soon as their playing careers end.
Lynch didn’t do that. He just made it clear he did not want to participate. And so we had a three-day charade. On Tuesday’s “Media Day” in Newark, Lynch participated for six minutes and 28 seconds of Seattle’s hourlong availability. George Willis of the New York Post wrote, “Dressed in a gray hoodie and wearing sunglasses, he looked like the Unabomber in a Super Bowl warm-up.’’
Later Tuesday, the Professional Football Writers Association of America released a dramatically pompous statement, which included this: “Several of our long-standing and high-profile members were appalled by Mr. Lynch’s conduct and refusal to answer any questions.’’
Yikes. It made the self-important BBWAA sound like Delta House.
It only got worse on Wednesday when Lynch sat behind a table in a hallway on the second floor of the team hotel for six minutes and 47 seconds of the Seahawks’ hourlong availability. Lynch said he was uncomfortable. He said he appreciated the interest of the media, and the support of the fans, but he didn’t understand the media’s role as a “bridge” to the fans. He was polite but soft-spoken when addressing reporters. Fullback Michael Robinson tried to help Lynch through the awkward session.
The questions became a parody of themselves. Reporters were there to talk about Lynch not talking. Was Lynch going to be fined for not cooperating? Why does Lynch hate doing interviews, they wanted to know.
“I really ain’t got too much to say, boss,’’ said Lynch. “I really don’t. I appreciate it, but I don’t get it. I’m just here so I won’t get fined, boss. That’s the only reason I’m here.
“I mean, if y’all say y’all is our bridge from the players to the fans, and the fans really aren’t tripping, then what’s the point? What’s the purpose? They’ve got my back and I appreciate that, but I don’t get what’s the bridge then built for.’’
Added the amiable Robinson, “He just wants to play ball, boss.’’
With Robinson as his wingman, Lynch was back at his table Thursday, fulfilling his final obligation. The final session featured a little more give-and-take. It was almost like a real interview. Lynch even made a couple of little jokes. When asked about offensive line coach Tom Cable, Lynch said, “Being from Oakland, all I knew about him was he punched people. That’s my type of person.”
Lynch was a half-hour late for his session and bolted with 20 minutes remaining in the availability window.
Free at last. There will be no more media obligations for Lynch this week.
Good. Let’s leave him alone. Atticus Finch knew enough to keep Boo Radley off the witness stand. The now-loquacious Bill Walton was almost mute in his early NBA days. Sandy Koufax won’t do interviews anymore and he’s a god-like figure.
It’s OK for Lynch to duck and cover and do the minimum. I am not worried about all athletes withdrawing from the process. There will always be guys like Kevin Millar and Richard Sherman to offset the recluses.
“I really don’t think everyone should be forced to do it,’’ Sherman said Thursday. “His game speaks for itself.’’
Lynch is 5 feet 11 inches, weighs 215 pounds, grew up in Oakland and went to California. His mom’s name is Delisa Lynch and he has a brother named Davonte. A couple of his cousins played professional football. He played three-plus seasons with the Buffalo Bills and has been with Seattle since the 2010 season. He rushed for 1,257 yards this year and scored 14 touchdowns.
He was fined $50,000 for not talking to the Seattle media during the season, but appealed the fine and the penalty is on hold while the NFL assesses his Super Bowl week conduct. The league has threatened to fine him $100,000.
“The people I play for on Sunday don’t have a problem with it,’’ said Lynch softly. “The media has a problem with it. It’s a problem if they choose to take something away from me for not doing it.’’
Pete Carroll and Peyton Manning are doing plenty of interviews. Let’s have no more talking about not talking and play some football.