Leave Marshawn Lynch Alone

In what has seemed like an especially inane lead up to the Super Bowl, Marshawn-Lynch-Won’t-Talk-Gate has been particularly annoying. Especially aggravating is the media’s ongoing insistence that it is somehow doing athletes a huge favor by covering them, as opposed to, you know, making their *own* livelihoods off the backs of those athletes.

In that vein, a few quick points:

1) I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the NFL to have a media policy. What makes no sense to me is that there is no provision for players to apply for an exemption. Defenders of the league’s stiff fines for those refusing to speak to the media invoke the slippery slope argument that if an exception were made for Lynch then the next thing you know – no one will be talking to the media. That, of course, would not happen. But you could stipulate that players should appear for media day unless they apply for and receive an exemption, pursuant to a process worked out between the players and league management.

2) As for all of the Lynch-bashing this week – none of it holds up. I’m just going to pick on Stephen A. Smith for this week, as a stand in for the media more generally, because he rehearsed most of the tired arguments about Lynch while here being schooled by Arian Foster. Stephen A. claimed (as have Francesa, Jeff Pearlman and others) that it’s the media that is responsible for the players earning so much money. Stephen A. is a multi-millionaire thanks to organized athletics. Is he seriously arguing that he is more responsible for Lynch’s pay check than Lynch is for his? That’s a joke. To all elite sports journalists/pundits – please stop whining as if you’re Mother Teresa, sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of the athletes. Your business feeds off (one might say is parasitical on) their business. That the best athletes generally make more money than the highest profile pundits isn’t a result of your work. At all. It’s one of the relatively few instances of the meritocracy actually functioning as it should.

Good god, the self-pity and lack of self-awareness here are astonishing. The Stephen A.s of the world are wealthier than all but a handful of Americans. Do they really not know that? Do they really not understand to what they owe their incredible privilege? Spare us.

3) If you want to invoke the contractual obligation argument – that, per the CBA between players and owners, Lynch is indeed obligated to appear on Super Bowl media day and field questions – then you’ve already conceded that Lynch did this week what he was contractually obligated to do. He showed up, and fielded questions from the media. Stephen A. tried to argue that Lynch’s repeated resort to the line: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” is a clear violation of the “spirit” of the rule.

Tell it to the judge, Stephen. If you and your cronies don’t like it, get the NFL owners to negotiate the next CBA in such a way that requires players to answer questions substantively. Otherwise, quit invoking the CBA only when it suits your purposes.

4) Earth to Stephen A. et al – the fans are *not* primarily interested in the generally boilerplate comments of athletes, nor the generally inane media questions that elicit the generally boilerplate responses. We are interested in the games and the great athleticism we see on the field. We are, it is also true, at least mildly interested in players who deviate from the script. You, on the other hand, generally prefer your pabulum (and then your right to complain about said pabulum). As Foster told Smith, some people want to hear what he has to say and some people just want him to “shut up and play.” But what every fan wants is to *watch* him play.

Sports media, as a group (there are exceptions, of course), are never worse than when trying to dress up self-serving arguments about access as if they are contributing to some larger good.

(Check out my blog for further musings on ESPN and other sports media).