Though he was facing competition from the likes of Gronk, Richard Sherman, and the never-ending story that is Deflategate, Marshawn Lynch won Super Bowl Media Day in under five ill-mannered minutes.
After explaining to the assembled media what to expect from his press conference, Lynch proceeded to meet every question lobbed his way – about 29 in all – with the same answer: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” He occasionally switched up his delivery, but the answer stayed constant. This went on for four minutes and 51 seconds, and then Lynch called “time” and strode away from the podium.
He did the same thing during his press obligations today, answering 14 questions in five minutes with the response “you know why I’m here.”
If you follow the side rings of the NFL media circus with any regularity, you know that such performances are now routine with Lynch, who has become as exhausting to the league’s beat reporters as he is to opposing defenses. According to ESPN, Lynch was told he’d face a $500,000 fine if he didn’t fulfill his obligations in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. The running back has already accrued over six figures in fines from the league for failing to make himself available to the media this season, something the NFL requires of its players. He was fined $100,000 for refusing to speak to reporters in after a game in November.
Since then, his press conferences have been master classes in following the letter, if not the spirit, of the rule. The week after his big fine, Lynch showed up, but responded to every question with “Yeah.” In a later presser, the rote response was a slightly more loquacious “thanks for asking.”
He’s accumulated fines for other small violations of league rules, including a $20,000 penalty for making a lewd gesture after scoring a touchdown during the NFC Championship game. The NFL also threatened to fine him for wearing gold cleats during that game, and reportedly mulled a fine for the baseball cap he wore (it featured the logo for his Beast Mode clothing line, a brand not approved by the NFL’s apparel policy) during his Media Day presser.
To many, such antics smack of childish entitlement – speaking to the media and following uniform requirements are part of Lynch’s job, after all, and he gets paid millions to do it.
But after a season full of football scandals far more embarrassing and serious, chiefly the fiasco surrounding the Ray Rice video and questions about the league's treatment of domestic violence, the powers that govern the NFL and hand down player punishments aren’t exactly beloved these days. Railing against them in more benign ways, from wrong-colored cleats to surly press conferences, burnishes Lynch’s image as an anti-establishment folk hero among football fans – a deadpan, gold-cleated Paul Bunyan that runs on Skittles and reporters’ squirms.
Lynch is already the NFL’s scariest running back, a combination of speed and strength who can probably beat you in a 15-yard dash even while dragging four or five defenders with him. But running backs are among the pass-centric NFL’s most expendable positions. Even dominant ones have a relatively short window to maximize their earning potential.
Building a brand isn’t a bad way to extend it, and on that front, Lynch is off to a good start. His jersey was the second-best selling Seahawks jersey this season, behind quarterback Russell Wilson. So far, he’s managed to parlay his two non-football defining characteristics – as a Skittles lover and an uncooperative interview subject – into endorsement deals for his favorite candy and Progressive Insurance, respectively. His Beast Mode hat might garner him another fine, but it’s a small advertising fee for the viral exposure the brand got thanks to the hubbub surrounding Lynch’s press conference.
Whether fans will care about these things once Lynch’s on-field dominance has passed is unclear. But there are a lot of other really, really good football players at the Super Bowl this week, and for the moment, we’re only talking about the one who won’t talk to us.