John McGrath: Lynch signed for entire ride, interviews included

January 8, 2014 

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, stiff-arming Cardinals corner back Patrick Peterson during a game on Dec. 22, keeps the media at arms length, too.

JOE BARRENTINE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Marshawn Lynch, as you and your friends and probably most of the monks in remote Tibet have heard, doesn’t enjoy interacting with the media. Rumor has it Lynch is wary of cameras, and would prefer to do his speaking on the football field.

Besides, when a plumbing company will pay you to face a camera and speak, why do that stuff for free?

Lynch’s reluctance to talk to the media never has been a problem for the media. On any given Sunday, there are 52 other players available for questions after a Seahawks game. A few dread that aspect of their job as much Lynch does; a few others actually enjoy it.

Everybody else regards their five or 10 minutes spent dealing with the media as no big deal: not as good as lounging at a poolside cabana, not as bad as carrying heavy furniture up a spiral staircase. But they’re professional and polite about it.

Strange as this sounds, even in the gloom of defeat, the process is civil. Rarely does a postgame interview end without a reporter and a player exchanging a version of “thanks” and “you’re welcome.”

When I learned the NFL slapped Lynch with a $50,000 penalty last week for avoiding the media this season, my first thought was: Really? 50-grand? I realized players are supposed to be available to reporters after games and once during the week, but $50,000 seemed harsh, even if the league has earmarked it for charity.

My second thought was: Oh, well. Lynch is in the second season of a four-year contract that annually pays him $7 million. If he were earning $70,000 a year, the fine would be the equivalent of $500.

In any case, he’ll probably be able to write a check without arranging for an advance payday loan.

What surprised me is the public backlash. It’s not aimed at Lynch, who made the choice – not for the first time – to disregard obligations stipulated in his contract. (The league previously had fined him $5,250 for wearing neon-green football cleats inconsistent with those of his teammates, and $10,000 for wearing cleats decorated with a likeness of Skittles candy pieces.)

The backlash is aimed at the media, those sycophantic, fact-twisting scumbags whose calling in life is to prove that there are more bothersome nuisances than fleas and mites. Don’t the media realize Lynch is preparing for a critically important playoff game demanding his attention?

Thing is, nobody in the media – at least the Seattle media – stresses over Lynch’s failure to communicate. Nobody representing a Seattle-area media outlet contacted the office of commissioner Roger Goodell and tattled on the recalcitrant running back.

I suspect the league took action after ESPN was unable to arrange an interview with Lynch for a feature on his unforgettable “Beast Quake” touchdown against the Saints in the first round of the playoffs after the 2010 season.

And why would the league care so much about Lynch rebuffing ESPN? Maybe because the network is paying the NFL $1.9 billion a year for rights fees through 2021. Along with the rights fees agreed to by Fox, NBC and CBS, the money from ESPN is shared by the league’s 32 teams and, by extension, the players on those teams.

I’m not sure how much of Marshawn Lynch’s $7 million salary came from ESPN this year, but some of it did. By ignoring media obligations stipulated in his contract, Lynch essentially was blowing off a company that’s a source of his income.

Like any U.S. citizen, Lynch retains the constitutional right not to be made to talk if he doesn’t want to talk. If he’s eager to exercise that right, he can quit the NFL any time he wants.

But once he put his signature to a contract, Lynch relinquished his right to remain silent and, for that matter, his right to wear neon-green football cleats when nobody else on the Seahawks is wearing neon-green football cleats.

Were I to succeed Goodell as commissioner, I’d spend less time worrying about the shoe-color choices of active players and more time helping those retired indigents who have difficulty tying their shoe laces. And rather than punish players who don’t want talk to the media, I’d figure out a way to arrange contract bonuses for those who do.

But Goodell has his rules, and the penalty for violating those rules will cost Lynch $50,000. Some Seahawks fans are rallying around a website to help the $7 million man make ends meet – hey, it’s early January, just after the holidays; those unexpected hits to the debit card are the worst – and Lynch, in gratitude, announced via Facebook that he’ll match whatever is raised and donate it to charity.

The philanthropy is admirable, even if Lynch’s Facebook campaign contradicts the notion he’s too immersed in football right now to tolerate distractions.

Again: Marshawn Lynch’s avoidance of the media never bothered me, and I doubt it has bothered any of my colleagues in the press box at CenturyLink Field. It’s a joy to watch this 21st century version of Bronko Nagurski slam into tacklers as if they’re crash-test dummies, and a privilege to describe.

We’d welcome his thoughts, but if he’s not cool with sharing them, the Q and A ritual is awkward and dispiriting for everybody.

But it’s reasonable to presume Lynch’s refusal to engage with the media bothered ESPN, which pays the NFL $1.9 billion a year, among other things, for the opportunity of interviewing him.

Connect the dots.

Marshawn Lynch isn’t a victim. He’s an NFL star who agreed to a lucrative contract, then somehow determined talking for five or 10 minutes after a game to be more difficult than three hours spent shredding brutal tackles.

If he’s worthy of your thoughts and prayers, you might consider updating the list of your thought-and-prayer book.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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