Jerk Mode: Marshawn Lynch and why athletes need to talk to media

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is Marshawn Lynch and his non-dealings with the media.

From the column:


Marshawn Lynch is fairly clueless, so the meaning of this story probably will be lost on him. But it needs to be told to give a little perspective about the NFL and the media.

Long before the league became a behemoth, it struggled to get coverage from the newspapers in its early days. As a long-time staffer at the Chicago Tribune, I heard many tales of George Halas, the NFL’s founder, showing up in the newsroom with write-ups about the Bears. He also would leave some tickets so the guys in the sports department could take in a game or two to get a taste of this pro football.

Imagine a Jerry Jones or Robert Kraft doing that today.

Back then, Halas knew the importance of using the media to get the word out about this fledgling Bears. And it worked. The Tribune was the first major paper to play up the NFL on its sports pages. My old colleague Don Pierson said, “The Tribune saved the NFL, maybe even made it.”

The NFL hasn’t forgotten that lesson. That’s why it insists its players such as Marshawn Lynch talk to the media.

For whatever reason, the Seattle running back has a strong aversion to chatting with the press after games even though the league makes it a requirement. The NFL finally had enough and fined Lynch $100,000 after he ducked the media following Seattle’s loss at Kansas City on Nov. 16.

With his wallet a bit lighter, Lynch made himself available after Sunday’s game. If you want call it that. “Beast Mode” went into Jerk Mode. According to Greg Bell, the beat writer for the Tacoma Tribune, he used 50 words to answer 22 questions. Most of them were “yeah,” even if they didn’t correspond directly to the question.

The whole session was demeaning to reporters who are just trying to do their jobs. It was an embarrassing display, showing that Lynch has the maturity level of a 4-year-old.

Nobody is asking Lynch to be glib like his teammate Richard Sherman. He doesn’t even have to give detailed responses. All he has to do is mutter a few short answers, throw in a cliché or two, and he’s out the door. It really isn’t that difficult.

Instead, Lynch’s defiant behavior simply calls more attention to himself. His postgame antics now are a story.

Lynch is painfully unaware that leagues like the NFL know their appeal goes beyond playing games. They realize it is imperative for fans to develop a connection to their teams through players and coaches. The bond runs deeper if you know them as people and not just a bunch of big guys who put on pads on Sundays. It goes into building the brand.


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