- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Editor’s note: Todd Dybas was a Seattle Seahawks beat writer during their run to winning the Super Bowl in 2014.

Marshawn Lynch had a chance midway through the 2013 season to squash the issue. He had made his stance clear. Lynch was not going to talk to the media, no matter the following the Seahawks were cooking up with robust personalities and domineering play. This irked the league and several reporters, most of which were not around often. Here, with a small pack of lingering local reporters and closing time near in the lockerroom, Lynch could have a brief, congenial chat that would get him off the hook. It would reset his clock for not talking — NFL players are contractually obligated to talk twice a week, if asked — and clear him of possible fines from the NFL for his public silence.

The idea was put forth to Lynch by a media relations leader in Seattle: Come talk to the local reporters for a couple minutes. They’re right there, it will be brief and benign. His response, uttered with his nose a few inches from the media relations director, contained multiple expletives along with a few nos.

Lynch became a study in media interaction that season. The now-Oakland Raiders running back, who arrives in the District on Sunday to face the Washington Redskins in a primetime game that night, was lauded by other players and fans for his bite back at the media. He was fined and dissected for his decision to be brief and preference to be silent. Lynch’s terse answers were gold for memes and persona building. His running style exhibited a me-versus-everyone nature. Now, his lip-zipping movement through the public eye did the same.

The core reason for him not talking to reporters was not known. He had progressively talked less since arriving in Seattle in 2010 from Buffalo. One theory was that Lynch was burned by a columnist in Buffalo, so he was guarded in Seattle. After his summer 2012 arrest for DUI, Lynch talked even less. By 2014, he was in a full-fledged grapple with reporters that only became worse as the season moved to its most prominent stage.

Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Golden Tate and others filled the Seattle locker room with personality and talent. But, it was always Lynch who was pointed at as the center of that team’s cyclone. The Seahawks had the league’s best defense and top running attack. Lynch was the bruising embodiment of both, perhaps only rivaled by Chancellor for his force and following. That’s why he was often pursued to talk.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lauded Lynch’s ferocity. His teammates enjoyed explaining his humor and kinship. When linebacker Bobby Wagner was asked about the difficulty of stopping Adrian Peterson, then Minnesota’s running back, he was also asked about his thoughts on the best running back in the league.

Marshawn,” Wagner immediately said.

An attempt to put forth some superlatives about Peterson, who was coming of a 2,097-yard season, was quickly cut off by Wagner.

Marshawn,” he said again. That was it.

Lynch became friends with kicker Steven Haushcka, who played football for the first time as the kicker at Middlebury College before enrolling in dentistry school at North Carolina State after graduating. The pair was featured in a Yahoo cartoon as part of the “Super Friends” series. In the skit, they awkwardly met at a water cooler on the sideline during a game, then tried to decipher who the other was. The comedy worked because Hauschka and Lynch seemed such an unlikely duo. In reality, bringing the kicker into his circle was a signal about how Lynch operated among his teammates.

“He’s got a huge heart, he gives back to the community, he works really hard, he’s got one of the most interesting personalities around,” Hauschka said Thursday. “He doesn’t try to conform to society. He knows who he is, he’s comfortable with himself and he’s happy to be out in the real world just being himself. Doesn’t really care what other people think. I think that kind of stands for something you don’t see much anymore and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Lynch was the only player in the locker room who played music out of the boom box crammed into his locker. It was shout-over-it loud. Two people appeared to have the right to control the volume: Lynch and fullback Michael Robinson. It was turned down once in front of reporters that season. That was when team president Peter McLoughlin surprisingly walked through the locker room. He saw Lynch and stopped to talk. Their conversation was brief, McLoughlin walked away, Lynch cranked the music back up.

Robinson, now an analyst for NFL Network, which said Robinson was not available for this story, was Lynch’s public spokesperson and best friend. Their lockers were side-by-side. That season, the two shared a house. On occasion, Lynch watched Robinson’s kids. One day, I attempted to broker a deal with Lynch. I was writing about Robinson, so I asked Lynch if he would talk about Robinson for the story. We could go to the side of the building or in the hallway off the back of the locker room so a crowd wouldn’t gather. “No thanks, boss,” was the polite response.

There was a developing rub as the season progressed. Lynch did not want to talk, but he was also regarded with such esteem on one of the league’s best teams, it was part of the job to write about him and try to catch a comment. There were also plenty of other options within the locker room. Local reporters came to understand this. Though, the league fined Lynch in November for his stance.

The back-and-forth between Lynch and reporters prompted odd claims from outsiders about why he did not want to talk. The strangest among them was that Lynch, someone who told jokes and whooped during practice, once grabbed his genitals when flying into the end zone in a game, and would later sit on the front of a duck boat pounding a drum in front of a million people prior to dancing on the sideline last week, had a social anxiety issue.

The will-Lynch—talk storyline peaked when the Super Bowl week began. The old guard among football writers was in a frenzy to make Lynch speak. They put out a statement damning Lynch’s lack of participation in media day and had a meeting. Many other writers rolled their eyes.

Cameramen began to set up 30 minutes before Lynch was slated to sitdown in a back corner and talk in the days following media day. When he emerged, Robinson was at his side. The ensuing conversation felt more like cross-examination until Robinson pulled the mic over to answer the questions for, and as if he was, Lynch.

Little has changed since Lynch’s return from a one-year retirement. He jokes with teammates and doesn’t want to participate in media sessions about football. If anything has been altered, it’s the consideration by athletes whether they have to talk and an, if brief, reflection by reporters on their role. Sports is largely an egoists’ business. Shunning the spotlight not to hide negatives, but just because you want to, confused almost everyone involved. Just not Lynch.

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