Marshawn Lynch, with hat and just where he doesn't want to be Credit: Art Thiel
JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Marshawn Lynch has thrilled the NFL with his breakaway runs. But the NFL won't be thrilled with the figurative tackles he broke Wednesday. At another mandatory session with the media, this one at a poorly planned site in a cramped hallway of the team hotel, Lynch bolted after seven minutes, walking across empty chairs to find a way past the knot of journalists.
He was probably one stiff-arm away from drawing a fine.
Repeating his discomfort from a day earlier at the week's official media day in nearby Newark, Lynch this time admitted the obvious.
"I'm just here so I don't get fined," he said. "I just don't get it."
Wednesday, he had the assistance of teammate and friend Michael Robinson. After Lynch gave a few nearly inaudible responses to ordinary questions, the media-savvy fullback jumped into the conversation in an attempt to be funny and take the pressure off Lynch.
"I'm gonna slide up in this thing right now, just to break the monotony a little bit," Robinson said, grinning and moving over a chair. "You can direct your questions to me."
Robinson was asked an obvious question about how Lynch felt about his media responsibilities.
"He hasn't talked to you guys most of his life, I think he just said that. He just wants to play ball — boss," Robinson said, deploying Lynch's favorite nickname for anyone he doesn't know.
Lynch seemed to enjoy Robinson's help, but things gradually became more awkward. Finally Lynch couldn't stand it. With several people talking at once and one shouting his name, Lynch, as he is wont to do on game days, found daylight in an original way.
His exit to the right cut off by teammate Robert Turbin — "Why you wanna block me in, brother?" Lynch asked when Turbin sat down — Lynch went to the B gap, going past Robinson and walking atop unoccupied chairs along the wall before getting around tables and finding the room to run — or walk — away. He wasn't demonstrative, just annoyed.
The same shortened commitment Tuesday drew a rebuke Wednesday from the Pro Football Writers of America. A league spokesman said no fine was forthcoming because Lynch did participate Tuesday and Wednesday, albeit short of the required 45 minutes.
The writers' statement, issued by president D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the PFWA "is extremely disappointed in the lack of meaningful access to Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl XLVIII media day on Tuesday. Several of our long-standing and high profile members were appalled by Mr. Lynch’s conduct and refusal to answer any questions. We find the statement that by the league that ‘Players are required to participate and he participated’ to be an affront to our membership."
The statement will only reinforce Lynch's belief that the media is trying to take something from him, in the form of fines. The NFL fined him $50,000 in the regular season for failing to cooperate with Seattle media, but held off when he began to talk, albeit grudgingly. If he fails again, the league said it would fine him $100,000.
Media cooperation is part of the standard player contract that is bargained collectively between the league and players union. The more frequent contacts with media in Super Bowl week are also mandatory for all participants.
Told that the league, not the media, issues fines, Lynch said, "It starts somewhere." He said that if the media is the bridge to fans, and his fans don't care if he talks, then what's the fuss?
Lynch has a point. So does the NFL — by signing a contract, he and all other players agree to its terms. On the NBCSN show "Pro Football Talk at the Super Bowl," former NFL coach Tony Dungy and former player Rodney Harrison said the league can't make exceptions because many more players will exit, particularly after the clumsy affair Wednesday.
A number of Seahawks players were made to stand in groups of three or four around tall drink tables bearing their names while media members clattered and jostled about in a tight setting less orderly that a kindergarten fire drill.
In the big picture, it is a trifle. But there are no small things at the Super Bowl, given the media magnification. The Seahawks are not particularly troubled by the dust-up. As coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday (before Lynch's chair-walk), "On this football team, and all teams, there's people that are more available than other people. Because they're comfortable with that . . . I wish people knew what a great team member Marshawn was.
"We don't get any more interview time with him than you do."
But on a slow news week with little history between coaches and players or with the Super Bowl, Lynch's attempt to be left alone is a distraction.
Common sense would seem to dictate a traditional American solution: A buy-out. Since a third repeat Thursday is the acme of absurdity, and since Lynch chose to violate the deal agreed upon by the union, he needs to accept the $100,000 fine for peace of mind.
He said Tuesday he prefers action to words, and that is action to end the words. Fans and teammates can pass the hat for someone making $7 million in 2013, or he can simply accept it as the cost of doing business as Beast Mode Inc.
And he retains his self-respect because he talked the chair-walk.
Art Thiel is all over the Super Bowl and the Seahawks' preparations for the big game. Thanks to our sponsor MTR Western, a motor coach service for college and pro sports teams. Find out more about MTR Western by clicking here.