Feb 12 2014
Football fans across the Pacific Northwest and western Canada are familiar with the on the field talents of Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. His hard work and exceptional skills are incontestably one of several reasons the Seahawks today are the best team in professional football and deserving winners of the Lombardi Trophy.
Some fans may have picked up on a little item briefly referenced on the “media day” that is part and parcel of all the hype and build up to the Super Bowl. Lynch apparently has this arcane notion that one’s right to free speech includes one’s right to remain silent and he seldom speaks to the media. He is one of those rare players who let what he does on the field speak for itself.
One can guess that he quickly grows tired of the many banal and downright ignorant questions he hears, especially those that go along the line of “what were you thinking when. . . .” Gifted athletes perform in large part on instinct and muscle memory. What they do in a game speaks for itself.
Likewise, some actually have a zone of privacy that they like to maintain, especially about family and other personal matters. They rightly feel it’s nobody’s business but theirs if the kids attend a private school. Nor do they think their views on some political issue or cultural icon is relevant to their day job.
Team owners, though, know that the media writing about a team and building hype for a big game is an essential element in generating interest – especially the Super Bowl. Thus it was surprising to many fans to learn that if Marshawn did not appear at media day and subject himself to media queries he would be fined, and it would be substantial. The league has a clause in the player’s contract that mandates the players take media questions and respond.
So, Marshawn appeared for all of about six minutes, enough to meet the spirit of the rule, but also a clear indication to others that this was under duress and just a new form of indentured servitude.
When the subject is litigation, “contract” law carries great weight, but the constitutional guarantees carry even greater weight. Ironically, the media is quick to cite its free speech rights and tolerates no infringements on that right.
There’s hypocrisy though in that they say nary a word about star athletes being compelled to give up their right to remain silent in order to satisfy that insatiable public demand to know everything there is to know about a superstar.
Marshawn ought to be able to remain silent if he wants to do so. Neither he nor anybody else involved in sports has an obligation to help one reporter over another do their job, or help them produce a story. Responding ought to be voluntary not compulsory.
Watch the media handle a different iteration of this issue during the Olympics. American media will self-righteously excoriate the Russian government for limiting questions to their winning athletes just to the contest they’ve won. They are forbidden to address any political questions.
Tut, tut, shame, shame is what one will hear: shame on the Russians for not letting their athletes exercise their free speech rights.
What’s the difference between the Russian government’s effort to ensure only favorable coverage out of the Olympics and the NFL trying to ensure more presumably favorable coverage by fining anyone who dares not to go along?
Here’s hoping Marshawn and several other players file suit against the NFL to excise from contracts any mandates running counter to their constitutional rights, especially free speech as well as their right to remain silent.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Here’s hoping too that the media recognizes the existence of this double standard and swiftly moves to request such “must talk to the media” clauses removed.
Marshawn Lynch’s right to be silent should be respected and honored.Share on Facebook