In order for professional athletes like Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to be good role models to young fans they should be surrounded by a sports and family culture that value that kind of behavior over a bad boy game face that sells merchandise, says one Boston sports psychologist.
“This is a giant social challenge today that professional athletes from all sports are facing,” says Adam Naylor, a player development consultant with Telos Sports Psycholohy Coaching of Boston says in a phone interview. “There's a lot of acting involved in pro sports. Some theater. The key is to strike a balance. You behaved badly. Congratulations, you made [ESPN's] Sports Center! Just don’t behave so badly you lose your sponsors.”
No one is suggesting that Marshawn Lynch is in danger of losing sponsors. But at least one of his NFL peers says Lynch has gone too far, and is a bad role model for young men.
"The biggest message he's giving these kids, he might not want to admit it, is 'The hell with authority. I don't care, fine me. I'm gonna grab my crotch. I'm gonna do it my way,'" said Arizona Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote in an interview with 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.
On the field, Lynch is the Seattle Seahawks' star running back. He's almost unstoppable. But off the field, Lynch has a history of being reticent with the media in both pre-game press conferences and in the post-game locker room. Two years ago, Lynch was fined $20,000 by the NFL because he wouldn't speak to the press during the league-mandated sessions. This season, he was fined at total of $100,000 for refusing to talk to reporters after a game, reports SBNation.
At this year's Super Bowl, on media day Lynch answered every question with "I'm just here so I won't be fined." Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, wasn't impressed by his defiance: “I understand it may not be the top of his list, but everyone else is cooperating and everyone else is doing their part because it is our obligation … it comes with the privilege of playing in the Super Bowl.”
But as the NFL's "bad boy," he makes money. Naylor, a sports psychologist who works with Olympic athletes, says he is not surprised by Lynch's poor behavior, referring to Lynch’s nickname "Beast Mode," which is also his apparel brand. “I bet he [Lynch] sold a whole lot of T-shirts and hats every time he made the news for those actions.”
Is Lynch selling an authentic image?
Lynch supports the Fam 1st Family Foundation, which its website says is "dedicated to uplifting and empowering youth in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and throughout the United States. The foundation’s mission is one of empowerment and education, aiming to build self-esteem and academic learning skills in underprivileged youth."
Fans got a glimpse behind Lynch's "Beast" mask when he engaged in a Conan O’Brien stunt titled “Super Bowl proxy battle. Marshawn Lynch and New England Patriots tight-end Rob Gronkowski duked it out in "Mortal Kombat X" on Conan's Clueless Gamer Big Game Showdown!”
When the M-rated (for Mature audiences) violent video game got repulsively gory, Lynch leapt from his chair in horror, dropped the controller and walked off the set, visibly shaken.
Mr. O’Brien kidded him about his squeamishness saying, “How did that feel? That was too real. You couldn’t handle that….What’s your video game experience? What do you like?”
“Mario Cart. Toad. I like drivin’,” Lynch says referencing the children’s game and looking more like a blissful, teenage gamer than a tough guy.
However, when goaded and teased by O’Brien about his tough guy image being a sham, Lynch quickly gets back on message – game face back on – restating some of the rude and graphic types of communication lamented by Foote.
Cardinal's linebacker Foote objects to Lynch's off-the-field behavior because young fans may be adversely affected by adopting the behavior athletes like Lynch are modeling.
"In the real world, it doesn't work that way," Foote said. "It just doesn't. How can you keep a job? I mean, you got these inner-city kids. They don't listen to teachers. They don't listen to police officers, principals. And these guys can't even keep a job because they say 'F' authority.”
Naylor says that while he doesn’t excuse the behavior modeled by some professional athletes, it is not at all surprising given the way most top athletes are isolated from a normal community setting.
“We are great at creating the entitled athlete in this country,” Naylor says. “What we don’t do is maintain a social fabric around them to help guide them in modeling good values. These guys live in the team dorm and the weight room. They can’t even maintain a regular class schedule so they never meet the art major.”
Naylor adds that Mr. Barkley has recently modeled good behavior. On July 25, he offered to pay the funeral expenses for two young car-jacking victims. According to published reports, Keiearra Williams, 15, Joseph Reed, 10 and Terrence Moore, seven, “were selling fruit for a church fundraiser in Philadelphia when they were mowed down by a sport utility vehicle. Joseph died at the scene; Terrence and Keiearra were pronounced dead at the hospital.”
Naylor adds, “I may be kind of an optimist, but I believe every athlete means well. They just don’t always do well.”