Unusually, in one of his last Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns of the season, Gregg Easterbrook actually talked more about football than usual:
In the run up to the Super Bowl, Marshawn Lynch received a huge amount of attention for insisting he just wanted to be left alone. If he’d actually just wanted to be left alone, he would have gone to the podium, offered a few sports platitudes — “the Patriots are a fine, fine football team” — and everyone would have left him alone. By making a great show of appearing in very dark glasses and ignoring questions, Lynch drew attention to himself. Which, one presumes, was what he wanted all along.
Many pro athletes don’t like having to face the media; Bill Belichick* doesn’t like to, Roger Goodell doesn’t like to. Their contracts require them to, because professional sports fundamentally are a form of entertainment, and fans find the media conferences entertaining. (Lord knows why.) Many players came from high school and college environments where the local sports media consisted mainly of homers: scandals were downplayed, the toughest question was, “How do you explain your brilliant success?” At the NFL level, players can be surprised to encounter sharp questions and hostile tones.
Not, certainly, because NFL games are more important than prep or college contests — NFL games are strictly entertainment, the outcomes are irrelevant to society. It’s just that at the NFL level, the sports reporters are at the top of their profession, too. They ask tough questions. Most players and coaches learn it’s the path of least resistance to play along, even when the questions veer into the absurd. Smart players and coaches discover that beginning a media conference by bantering with reporters about their careers rapidly turns them from attack dogs to lap dogs.
Then there are the players who would radiate hostility toward the sports media, such as Lynch. In 2009, he was suspended by the league for three games. Lynch seemed to expect sports reporters would act like team publicists and change the subject; instead he got abrasive questions. Since then, including last week at Super Bowl media events, he has accused the sports media of printing lies about him: “You all can go make up whatever you’re going to make up.” I’d venture a guess Lynch actually does not know what the sports media is saying about him because he doesn’t read the newspaper. He may prefer to believe himself the victim of some vast sports-media conspiracy.
The odd thing is that Lynch has a sense of humor, as he displayed in his Skittles parody. If he’d only show that humor at a media conference, the ice would melt. Instead he says things like this from last week, when he was supposed to take questions: “I come to you all’s event, you shove cameras and microphones down my throat. I ain’t got nothing for you all.” Reporters and spectators don’t get angry at Lynch when he expects them to attend games: for him to get angry when he’s expected to fulfill a contractual obligation involving cameras and microphones shows bad manners. At media conferences Lynch acts like a spoiled brat, which reflects poorly on him and his team.
When Thurman Thomas couldn’t find his helmet at a Super Bowl, then the Bills lost, for a while he was angry at the media because reporters kept bringing this up. One day he walked into a media conference with a basket of miniature helmets that he handed out to reporters, and told a couple jokes about himself. For the rest of his career, Thomas had the sports media eating out of his hand: When it was time to cast Hall of Fame votes, Thomas got a landslide of votes. Somebody in the Seahawks’ organization should tell this story to Lynch.