In the midst of the biggest media frenzy of the sports calendar, Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks is refusing to play ball. On two separate occasions this week leading up his team's second straight appearance in the Super Bowl, the superstar running back took part in press conferences where he gave the same useless answer to every single question—annoying the reporters trying to get quotes out of him and subtly thumbing his nose at the entire process of canned sports interviews.
Lynch's act is nothing new, of course. Last year at the Super Bowl he was fined $50,000 by the NFL for refusing to make himself available to the media. His punishment was "suspended" on the condition that he cooperate in the future, but during the 2014 regular season, he skipped out on another postgame media scrum. So had to pay the original fine, plus another $50,000.
From that point on, Lynch started showing up for his interview sessions, but began deploying a new strategy of giving the exact same response to every single question he received. On one occasion, as increasingly exasperated reporters tried to get him to talk about the game, the only reply he gave was "Yeah." A second time, he went with "Nope." After the Seahawks beat division rival Arizona in December, his only response to all eight questions fired at him was, "Thank you for asking."
Then came Media Day, the now infamous Super Bowl-week spectacle in which every player on both rosters, and the thousands of reporters gathered to cover the big game, assemble on one field in an orgy of self-promotion. Predictably, it did not go well. Lynch timed his required five-minute appearance on his phone and would only say, "I'm just here so I won't get fined." After his performances earlier this season, Lynch was reportedly threatened with a $500,000 fine, the maximum that the league can demand from an individual, if he didn't take part in Super Bowl appearances. At a smaller gathering the next day, he shortened his responses, saying only "You know why I'm here."
Many of the reporters covering the game are aghast at his behavior. In the most recent session (above), one reporter told Lynch he was being a jerk to his face, while another asked what gives him the right to not answer their questions. It's an attitude that's most succinctly summed up by Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
Marshawn Lynch's tired sphinx act masks the hard truth that without the media NFL players would be playing in a parking lot for $8 an hour— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) January 28, 2015
Murphy is not alone in his sentiments, as many reporters (and some fans) believe it's the players' responsibility to help promote their own product by cooperating with the media that covers them. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Marcus Hayes lambasted Lynch for making a "mockery" of Media Day (an event many would already consider a mockery of journalism). Others deemed him unprofessional and childish. The league obviously agrees too, which is why the NFL requires players to make themselves available to the media and levies fines on those who don't. (Try to imagine any other newspaper beat where a reporter can demand that their subjects submit to on-the-record interviews, then go to a person's employer and exact punishment when they fail to do so.)
On the other hand, the post-game interviews that Lynch abhors—a dozen reporters gathered around a player's locker as he steps out of the shower to change his clothes—rarely contribute to the goal of fan enlightenment. Athletes are notoriously guarded, and the questions are inane. Inquiries like, "How did you feel?" and, "Talk about that one play," typically receive canned, clichéd responses or pointless platitudes about giving "110 percent" and never quitting. Then all 12 reporters reprint those quotes in 12 different media outlets and fans are none the wiser about the people or the game they love.
That said, there are plenty of reporters who find the process exhausting as well.
"I'm here so I don't get fined" is an honest answer. I like honest answers.— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) January 28, 2015
Most athletes may participate willingly, but they're careful to avoid anything remotely interesting or controversial. Lynch may show "disdain for the machine" that feeds his paycheck, but every athlete knows how quickly that machine will turn on you if you slip up. An offhand comment about a teammate or opponent can quickly become bulletin board fodder, or worse. Say the wrong thing or upset the wrong people, and suddenly that paycheck isn't so fat.
Lynch is also smart enough to understand that his grumpy act only feeds the machine further. After all, he's all anyone can talk about this week. (As Deadspin pointed out, writers like Hayes should be thanking Lynch for giving them easy column ideas.) "Beast Mode" has become a fan favorite, and despite the fines, it actually helps his personal bottom line (he just shot a commercial that spoofs his press appearances).
Lynch isn't the only media-averse sports figure. Gregg Popovich, the head coach for the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, is another famous interview malcontent. He participates in the mandatory shakedowns with sideline reporters, but unlike most NBA coaches, he responds with only the most terse answers, or with open disdain for the interviewers. Also, unlike almost every other NBA coach, his media moments are a must-watch.
In that sense, it's hard to argue that refusing to pal around with reporters is unprofessional. Not cooperating with the machine actually generates better stories. And it only underlines the point that reporters need the athletes way more than the athletes need them. It seems likely that every news outlet in the country could fire their sports reporters tomorrow (please don't!), but the NFL would keep filling stadiums. Lynch's (high-paying) job will continue to be playing football, not giving quotes. Although if the media paid a little closer attention, they'd realize he's graciously giving them the second part for free.