NEWARK, N.J. -- By the end of his stunt, everyone involved in this Marshawn Lynch fiasco seemed embarrassed to be there. Everyone but Marshawn Lynch, anyway.
As word spread that Lynch was refusing to answer questions but refusing to walk out of Media Day on Tuesday at the Prudential Center, the crowd around Lynch grew. Super Bowl Media Day is a circus, and this was The Tailback Who Won't Talk. Step right up! He had talked for about six minutes, then left the interview area briefly before coming back and standing there, away from the podium, leaning against the official Super Bowl backdrop. At that point there were 15 or 20 reporters staring at him, but we grew in number. Soon there were about 50 of us just standing there, watching him watch us. It was a stalemate of stupid.
"Some job we have, huh?" the Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger muttered to me.
"Humiliating," I whispered back.
At this point I remembered what Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith had told me a few minutes earlier, before Lynch had shown up, when he predicted that his player would meet the media. This had been a topic of debate in New York and New Jersey, seeing how Lynch already had made it clear that he didn't like talking to the media. He had been fined once before by the NFL, for $50,000 earlier this season, for skipping so many media obligations. Lynch appealed the fine and it was held in abeyance, meaning he wouldn't have to pay it if he met his future media obligations -- but he would owe that $50,000, and a second fine of at least $50,000 more, if he refused a league-mandated media assignment again.
"He'll be there," Smith told me. "He doesn't want to be a distraction. I told him [earlier today], 'Try to enjoy media day.' He told me, 'I just don't enjoy it.'"
With Lynch staring at the media and the media staring back, I left this display of dumb and found Sherman Smith. I wanted another comment from the coach, now that we had an answer: Yes, I told Smith, Lynch showed up and spoke to the media. But now he's just standing there, staring at us.
"Is that right?" Smith said. "When he's in that mood, the best thing you can do is ignore him right back. I do it all the time."
Wait a minute, I said to Sherman Smith. You're his position coach. He ignores you?
"Sometimes he just doesn't want to talk," Smith said. "When he's in that mood, the best thing you can do is just leave him alone. Walk away."
I walked back to Lynch. A Seahawks public relations official approached him and said, "Ten minutes left [in the hour mandated]. Can you do 10 minutes?"
No, Lynch said.
An NFL public relations official approached from the side, talking fast to Lynch and the Seahawks personnel nearby. The official left. Lynch stayed where he was, leaning against the backdrop, wearing sunglasses and a Seahawks hoodie inside the NHL arena. Lynch leaned over to Mo Kelly, the Seahawks senior director of player development, and said this about the NFL guy: "Did you hear what he said?" And then Lynch started to laugh.
Kelly kept a straight face, because like the media and PR officials for the Seahawks and NFL, Mo Kelly seemed embarrassed by the whole thing.
Then Sherman Smith showed up. Smith left his NFL-assigned spot to speak with Lynch, but whatever he said changed nothing because Lynch stayed up against the backdrop, 25 feet away from the reporters, ignoring the questions that came his way.
"Marshawn, what is your mindset going into the game on Sunday?"
"Any thoughts at all?"
Lynch mouthed a single word:
Embarrassing, all of it. Lynch is the highest-paid player on the Seahawks, in the second year of a four-year, $31-million contract in which $17 million was guaranteed. He earned that, but he didn't do it all by himself. It was the players who came before him. It was the rest of the league generating so much attention that the country comes to a standstill on Sundays to watch the NFL. It was the fans buying tickets, apparel. It was all of those people making possible the generational wealth that Marshawn Lynch -- and other players -- have been able to earn. And in return, the NFL asks its players to occasionally step outside their cocoon of football for short periods of time, answering questions from the media, supplying information that will be read by fans.
But Tuesday, Lynch decided six minutes was enough. So did the NFL, apparently. The NFL Network reported that Lynch won't be fined because he did speak for six minutes, and because he did stay there and lean against the official Super Bowl backdrop, staring out from his sunglasses. The questions kept coming, demeaning attempts by adults to get the kid to stop acting like one.
"Are you trying to avoid a fine by standing there?"
"Are you just going to stand there and not talk?"
Lynch nodded, then giggled.
TV analyst and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders came roaring over, all energy and attitude, laying a hand on Lynch's shoulder and launching into a quiet speech. Mo Kelly was listening. Lynch was staring off into the distance. When Sanders stopped talking, Lynch said a few quiet words. Sanders nodded and walked off.
A Seahawks PR official grabbed a reporter from the American Forces Network, a soldier in fatigues, and walked the soldier (with cameraman in tow) over to Lynch. The soldier talked for about 45 seconds. Lynch uttered a few words. The soldier and cameraman left.
Lynch stayed until the hour was up. When the Seahawks' interview session was announced to be over, Lynch headed for the exit. His mouth doesn't always work so good, but his ears seem just fine.