PHOENIX – Marshawn Lynch already had given a stock answer to reporters’ questions 25 times in a row. With only slight variation, it had gone like this:
“I’m here so I won’t get fined.’’
As response No. 25 rolled out of his mouth, I thought to myself, “Only something special, something truly piercing, is going to stun this guy into a real answer.’’ Not that all the previous questions had lacked the ability to penetrate, just that it’s hard to penetrate concrete. So this called for something that would speak to his humanity, rattle him out of his stubbornness and loosen his double-bolted tongue.
He and the jelly-spined NFL had agreed to a five-minute “interview’’ period at Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, never mind that most of his Seahawks teammates were scheduled to talk for an hour, as were the Patriots. That’s because Lynch has trust issues with the media or doesn’t like to be told what to do or thinks the questions are superficial. Or something.
The clock was ticking. We were four minutes, 38 seconds into the session.
“Marshawn,’’ I began, and Lynch leaned in, as if anticipating something weighty. And here it came, in beast mode.
“What about the plight of the children?’’ I said.
Now, I ask you: No matter how hard the heart, no matter how profound the vow of silence, who would be able to stay mum in the face of these children, whomever they were and whatever their plight actually was?
Nobody, that’s whom.
Nobody except Marshawn Lynch.
“Hey, I’m just here so I won’t get fined,’’ he said.
A few seconds later, the alarm on his phone went off, signaling the end of the five-minute Q & sort-of-A.
“Time,’’ he said, and then he was gone. The only things left at his table were a Seahawks cap, two bottles of Gatorade and a bag of Skittles someone had thrown to him. We’ll get to the candy in a moment.
The Seahawks want us to believe that Lynch, their star running back, is much more than he appears to be. They say he’s a great teammate with a wonderful sense of humor. He recently bought his teammates Gucci ski goggles for no other reason that he wanted to.
To the public, he’s all glare, dead air and rugged running. He’s the player who got fined $20,000 for making an obscene gesture in the NFC Championship Game. He’s the player who, in the past year, has been fined $100,000 for violating the league’s media policy. He doesn’t believe that talking with the media – part of a pro athlete’s job — applies to him. His representatives tried to negotiate a way out of Media Day, but the NFL threatened a $500,000 fine.
He was allowed to give the same non-answer to every question, a bit of gutlessness on the league’s part. Just to be clear: This isn’t a social-anxiety issue. This is an idiot issue.
If I were NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, I would have gone the opposite route. Adverbs and adjectives would have been worth a $1,000 bonus. An anecdote from a Seahawks game this season would have netted Lynch $10,000. A metaphor? Market value.
Lynch has earned some extra cash from Skittles by doing a pretend news conference filled with silly questions for a commercial. Or, if you prefer, he has earned some extra cash by mocking the NFL. And we, the media, helped him build his brand Tuesday by standing 10 deep to hear him say nothing.
What do the Seahawks see that Lynch won’t allow us to see?
“I think you (reporters) are too aggressive with him,’’ said defensive end Michael Bennett, the brother of Bears tight end Martellus Bennett. “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.’’
Aggressive? Here were some of the questions Tuesday:
– How was your flight?
– You used to be engaged with the public – what’s changed the past few years?
– Can you tip your cap if you love Arizona?
There are stuffed animals more aggressive than those questions.
Someone later asked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson what NFL rule he’d like to change.
“I wish everyone would stop fining my man Marshawn,’’ he said.
I wish Marshawn would let us see the great guy his teammates say he is, but it’s clear we now have bigger worries: What about the children?