By Danny O’Neil
NEW YORK – I wish Marshawn Lynch talked more to reporters.
I really do. He is funny, he is playful, and it’s always a surprise that one of the toughest men in this rough sport has such an endearing sense of humor. Like the time he walked around on his knees to imitate the diminutive Justin Forsett’s college job as a security guard. Or when he told Dave Wyman’s teenage son – then a Seahawks ball boy – that his feet were so big he looked like an upper-case L.
But as much as I wish that Lynch were more open to interviews, I cannot understand the fact that so many reporters are demanding the NFL require him to be. They’ve gone so far as to complain to the league through the Pro Football Writers of America regarding Lynch’s reluctance to fully engage in the league-mandated media availability.
Their overriding point: it’s a requirement of the job. This is true. The league has guidelines for players, mandating that they be available weekly to answer questions from reporters. It’s written into the collective-bargaining agreement that was agreed to by the players’ union, and if the NFL wants to monitor Lynch’s compliance and levy the $50,000 fine that he was facing earlier this year, that’s its decision.
I fail to see how it’s any reporter’s job to enforce that compliance, however, with a rule that is between the player and the league.
The freedom of the press that’s written into the bill of rights was not intended to insure that a football player be obligated to bare his soul before a few hundred of the closest reporters at such a ginned up and contrived event like Super Bowl Media Day. Reporters do not have subpoena power nor is there any right to get to know the inner-most thoughts of a Super Bowl participant.
The fact the NFL mandates its players be available for interviews is not anything more than a corporate public-relations policy. The league believes the media coverage generated by that availability is good for business.
For me, reporting has always been a pretty straightforward proposition. You find people that readers are interested in knowing about and ask questions designed to elicit answers that will inform, enlighten or entertain readers about that subject.
And if the subject doesn’t want to talk, say that. Now, there’s room to criticize the lack of response or to interpret that lack of response or describe the way in which the subject chose not to respond. If the NFL chooses to fine the player based on whether or not that meets the league guidelines, well, that’s between the player and the league.
But the complaints about Lynch’s 7 minutes worth of answers during the 60-minute media session should not be mistaken for journalistic principles. Trying to get big brother – in this case Daddy Goodell – to take a bit out of Lynch’s pocket is like asking Dad to make the neighbor kid share all of his Legos with you.
The absurdity of the whole situation is best embodied by the fact that it’s the reporters themselves – moreso than the public they purport to inform – who are the ones most vocal in the criticism of Lynch’s lack of involvement.
Lynch pointed out this paradox in a way only he could on Wednesday.
“If y’all say y’all is our bridge from the players to the fans, and the fans aren’t tripping, then what’s the point?” he asked. “What’s the purpose? They’ve got my back and I appreciate that, but I don’t get what’s the bridge then built for.”
Journalists are observers, not participants. To appeal to the league for a punishment from an agreement that journalists are not party to nor are they governed by, well, that’s not journalism, that’s being a tattle tale.
Any reporter who thinks otherwise should consider this: That same CBA that requires players talk to the media also forbids the premature disclosure of league suspensions for either performance-enhancing drugs or substance abuse.
Reporters don’t get fined for covering those punishments, and they shouldn’t be. They’re covering the league, they’re not beholden to it, which is the very same reason reporters don’t have any place actively campaigning for the league to force players to follow the guidelines on media availability.
I wish Lynch was open to interviews, I really do. I also wish the rest of the reporters at this Super Bowl would stop complaining to the league in an effort to make him talk.