Before this season, I wasn’t a fan of Marshawn Lynch at all. Granted, that had less do with him as a person and more to do with him not being a Dallas Cowboy. But with the NFL and the media going after him so hard this season, I gained a new appreciation. That was especially the case this week as Lynch not only took on sports media, but also gave a real-time demonstration on how to handle the Matrix.
As a member of the media, I can attest to the industry’s talent for painting two-dimensional portraits of athletes. You know, heroes and villains (and if those villains are Black, then they become “thugs”). But despite the barrage this week, Lynch stayed 3D. He didn’t say much in his pressers but he told me all I needed to hear, especially on day 3.
Perhaps what stood out to me the most was when he shouted out “Real Afrikans.” The combination of that, the African medallions, and his calling out of the media for essentially trying to turn him into a zoo animal, spoke volumes. His defiance when it came to answering questions illustrated just how pointless a lot of these mandated media events are (What is the point of interviewing someone who has nothing to say? What great stories are you really gonna get from a contrived media circus where all the players are instructed to give generic answers?). Ironically, by saying nothing, he proved to be the most interesting personality of the week.
And no matter how much the media tried to portray Lynch as a rule breaking, media hating “thug,” we got plenty of evidence to the contrary. Throughout the week, we say Lynch clowning in commercials and doing one-on-one interviews (including one where he sang). All the while, a seemingly endless stream of people stepped up to speak out on his behalf, letting the world know about the Marshawn Lynch they know in REAL LIFE. On top of it all, he put on a marketing clinic, pushing sponsors and selling out his own merchandise. And he surely made hordes of new fans in the process.
For all intensive purposes, he won. And more importantly, he did it his way. There’s no shortage of analysts castigating Lynch for being a poor role model. They point to the defiance towards the media and the crotch grabs. However, they miss the important life lesson he is demonstrating: Don’t give others the power to define you.
Members of the media tried as hard as they could to paint Lynch as a villain, but their efforts only turned him into more of a hero. In many people’s eyes, he came off as genuine, funny, a fantastic marketer, and most importantly, intelligent without the need to be validated by the media, the NFL, or anyone else who wants to fit him into their brutal buck narratives.
The Seattle Seahawks are an exception to the rule—a team full of three-dimensional personalities in spite of the NFL’s lockstep culture. Some of these personalities include the clean cut Russell Wilson; the dangerous, educated Negro Richard Sherman; and of course, Marshawn Lynch, the latest incarnation of “White America’s worst nightmare.” There were points in the season where the media tried to pit these different personalities against each other, playing a not-so-subtle game of respectability politics. What the Seahawk’s season, and this week’s media blitz in particular, has shown is that we can put all the respectability politics to bed.
The fact is, you could learn a lot from Lynch. Chief among those lessons is that it’s still possible to be a real person in the midst of the Matrix and its best friend, the 24-hour news cycle.
Forget your preconceived, Babylonian notions for a minute. Disregard how vindictive members of the media define Lynch. Everything you need to know is in plain sight. As he told a reporter asking about his work with Oakland youth, instead of listening to Lynch talk about it, go and see it for yourself.
Everyone can teach you something. You just have to be ready to learn.