Marshawn Lynch is a man of few words. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, the star running back for the Seattle Seahawks is making more news for his hostility toward the NFL press corps than for what he’s put on the record. His refusal to play ball with sports media (and a few epic crotch-grabs) has earned him $120,000 in fines and a stern warning from the league’s headquarters. But it’s also made him one of the most enigmatic players in the NFL.
Lynch has made his share of missteps: he’s been arrested for driving with a concealed gun and for driving under the influence. Because he skips press events, refuses to answer the media’s questions or he responds to them with some variation of "I’m here so I won’t get fined, boss," Lynch has been wide open to some of the most outrageously racist criticism the sports world has seen in recent years. Take this column by CBS New York’s Jason Keidel wrote last winter. He paints Lynch as both an uppity prima donna and an "ornery" ghetto brute who is only out to collect a check. He even uses Newark, where the press conference is taking place, to define the running back. A sample:
[He] did little on Media Day to change the perception of him. His testy, truncated responses — all ending with a caustic "Boss!" — was the story out of the Prudential Center, which, ironically, is in downtown Newark, as violent a city as any in America.
…If anyone can relate to a city that has surrendered to the violence and galling poverty of the ghetto, it’s Lynch.
Lynch comes from an appalling part of Oakland, flanked by drugs, gangs and guns, the template commerce of the ghetto. A major network recently ran a special on Lynch, and lifted the curtain on the reticent star’s life. … He’s been arrested several times since entering the public domain, and he’s vowed to rebuild his image as someone who left the ‘hood, but the ‘hood never quite left him.
Perhaps his biggest mistake is being unapologetically black and rebellious in a league business that depends on military-like obedience. That’s the subtext that runs through a lot of the criticism aimed at Lynch. Even ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith insinuated as much when he said that Lynch’s actions "sadden and disappoint me." "Marshawn Lynch seems to me to be a very authentic brother," Smith said. "He is a brother that could have some things to say that could have a profound impact on a lot of young minds out there because he is serious about his business, he is hardcore, and he is real." The point? Lynch is a role model for many young black football fans, and he should leverage that reality to do more.
But if you look past the non-interviews, it’s not too hard to find reasons to admire Lynch, both on and off the field. On it, he’s a dominant running back, arguably one of the most powerful runners the league has ever seen. Off it, he’s a goofball who’s fiercely protective of his hometown — Oakland– and still deeply involved in it. Here are a few facts about the man behind the myth.
He loves "The Town." Lynch was born and raised in predominantly black North Oakland and he was a legend at Oakland Tech High School, which he graduated from in 2004. Tech is where he earned his nickname, "Beast Mode." ("You find out what’s in you and it just comes out," he said by way of describing how to go into "beast mode.") The city is also enmeshed in his style of play: "Growing up, being from where I’m from, a lot of people don’t see the light," Lynch said of his spectacular run against the New Orleans Saints during the 2012 NFL playoffs in an ESPN E:60 segment. "I didn’t see the light on that play. I guess you could say it’s symbolic of where I’m from."
He’s still an Oakland school kid. Lynch is notoriously media shy, but that didn’t stop him from making a cameo in a video for the Oakland Unified School District ahead of the 2013-2014 school year to promote school attendance. Check him out dancing with kids to a remix of Rihanna’s "Please Don’t Stop the Music."
He gives back to his commnity. "I’ll be damned if somebody from Oakland say that Marshawn don’t come back and be in his community," Lynch told ESPN. Through his Fam 1st Family Foundation, Lynch has helped raise funds to build a youth development center in Oakland that also hosts an annual four-day event for young people in The Town that includes a bowling night. "Oakland, it done taught me a lot," Lynch told reporters. "I mean, Oakland has really just taught me about life, and I feel that I’m proud of my city and I feel like [without it] I wouldn’t have been the man who I am today. I’d had ups and downs and I’ve been able to overcome ’em, just because I feel like being from Oakland I had to overcome so much. The reason I feel I’ve been able to bounce back from that is because of the strong backbone that I have, and that I represent Oakland."
He’s embraced his sweet tooth. Lynch is an avid Skittles fan, and one of few players to receive an endorsement from a candy company. Skittles have become a staple of touchdown celebrations at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. Lynch even staged a mock Skittles press conference to poke fun at the media’s frustration with him.