NFL players participate in media sessions every week during the season – whether it’s during the week leading up to the game in the locker room, after a game in the locker room or on a radio show during the week. Some of these sessions are mandatory and some are voluntary. With the Super Bowl in just a few days, the media attention on the last game of the 2015 NFL season is at an all-time high and thus, every actions and word is being analyzed, scrutinized and reported on.
Players, coaches and front office executives approach the media in a variety of ways. This week, we have seen Marshawn Lynch refuse to answer questions from the media. Of course, he has done this for the vast majority of the 2014 season but of course, with it being Super Bowl week, everyone is fixated on what his next move might be.
Instead of answering questions, he has simply responded with just a short phrase and repeated himself over and over every time a question was asked. This week, we have heard him tell reporters that he’s there so he doesn’t get fired and that they know why he’s there. On Thursday morning, he talked for a few minutes and told the reporters that he’s not going to talk, that there’s no reason to talk and he’s only going to sit there for his remaining time and stare at the reporters like they are staring at him.
One may think of this as a distraction leading up to the biggest game of the year. However, we’ve seen plenty of his teammates, players around the league and yes, even Seahawks coaches who have supported him and stood up for him. There are also countless fans and factions of the media who have supported him.
One of those players is Richard Sherman, who took a swipe at the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell in the process. When asked about Lynch and mandatory media obligations, he said that every one of the NFL’s personnel should be obligated to speak weekly. Another person who showed support was his head coach Pete Carroll. Carroll said that it’s Lynch’s prerogative to handle it the way he’s handling it but also said it’s his way of being himself rather than someone he’s not.
All of that support has come amidst heavy criticism from various factions of the media and from some fans across the country. One reporter has suggested that everyone stops buying Skittles, the brand that Lynch endorses, dating back to when cameras caught him scarfing down Skittles after a long touchdown run that caused the city of Seattle to literally experience a mild earthquake rom the fans’ reaction. Other reporters said that Lynch has violated the professional code of conduct and should be repeatedly punished for what they called his unprofessional and immature behavior.
It all boils down to one thing though – he has the full support of the locker room. Seahawks players and coaches love him. They’ve talked about how he’s a genuine and nice guy off the field and will do anything for those he loves. They’ve talked about how smart he is and how they can sit there and talk about coverages, rotations and other small tendencies that the opponent does on film.
No matter how brash Lynch may have been this week, no matter how many times he refused to answer a question and no matter how many times he sent a message to the NFL, his teammates and coaches never left his side.
This contrasts to Mike Wallace and more specifically, his antics after a Week 17 loss to the New York Jets. After Charles Clay caught a touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill at the end of the first half, cameras caught Wallace and Tannehill screaming on the sideline. In the second half, we didn’t see Wallace touch the field.
Following the game, we saw a bizarre interview in the locker room with Brandon Gibson acting as Wallace’s spokesperson and answering all of the questions for him. The next day, he gave short and blunt answers to the media when they asked about what happened during the game the day before.
This led to the media and fans ripping him a new one. Even today, there are still people who are ripping Wallace for the way he acted and despite his talent, want him off the team. You will be hard pressed to find someone outside the Miami Dolphins locker room that has stuck up for Wallace and his actions towards the media.
We have seen a few players stick up for Wallace though. Most notably, Branden Albert and Brandon Gibson. However, Tannehill, the quarterback of the future, has not come out and stuck his neck out for Wallace. We haven’t heard any coaches stick up for him either nor has any front office executive. There are also other players in the locker room who have told reporters off the record that they will be watching the situation closely to see if Wallace gets away with his antics.
This, of course, is a stark contrast compared to Lynch. The situations are very different though as Wallace quit on his team while Lynch never has.
The point in all of this is that it really doesn’t seem to matter how players, coaches and others handle the media. Some are friendly and boisterous while others are tight-lipped. In the end, it comes down to what you can do on the football field. If you’re someone like Lynch who has proven himself over and over again, he has been given the benefit of the doubt and respect to be able to take a stand like he has this past week. If you’re someone like Wallace who quits on his team and who has done so in the past, it takes that respect away and they are no longer given the benefit of the doubt.
For as long as the NFL continues to be around, we will continue to see some colorful characters along with some very reserved players. When we see the two stark contrasts, it’s important not to judge people based on the way they talk in front of the camera and microphone. Instead, it’s much more important to judge them based on their contributions and production on the football field and in the locker room.
To do otherwise would be a mistake, as we have seen this week. Lynch has received all of the support from his teammates, coaches, former players and even some in the media. Wallace hasn’t received nearly the same type of support, despite their similar antics when talking to the media.
The difference? One quit and didn’t play hard while the other gives it everything he has when the ball is kicked off at the start of the game until the clock hits zero at the end of the game.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs