One of the biggest stories this week has been the cooperation or lack thereof from Marshawn Lynch at the various media day functions. He appeared for six minutes on Tuesday, giving a brief interview to Deion Sanders before disappearing again. Apparently it is expected that players appear for an hour minimum at these things, and so the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) launched a rather self-important sounding attack on this perceived violation.
Today he showed up for a similar time frame, remarked that he was “Just here so I don’t get fined, boss”, mumbled answers to a few more questions and took off again.
Lynch is clearly massively uncomfortable speaking to the media. He racked up a huge fine for not talking to them all season long in Seattle and seems to be doing just enough to avoid an even bigger financial penalty during the Super Bowl media circus.
My question though is why we feel we have the right to this access?
I understand that there is a contractual media obligation in place, but this goes deeper than that.
There has always been a slightly strange, sanctimonious and pompous element to journalism that I’ve never really been down with. Don’t get me wrong, I love journalism – I have a masters degree in it – but I don’t quite see that the very fabric of society crumbles around us if journalists are denied just a little bit of access. To listen to some talk, that’s exactly how serious this all is.
This whole right of constant access thing isn’t a worldwide constant either. I’m not just talking about the third world where freedom of the press is restricted by power-crazed despots. In the UK there is no such constant access to sports stars. Journalists covering the Premier League don’t get to wander into the dressing room after the game and quiz players. Hell, they may never get to quiz certain players. If a guy wants to avoid the spotlight he can avoid the spotlight.Teams are required to supply the manager and a player for post-game comments to the TV and a press conference, but that’s about it.
And you know what? The world keeps turning. Journalists deal with it.
Alex Ferguson was constantly falling out with various journalists and banning them wholesale from his press conferences or refusing to turn up to talk after matches. He spent nigh on a decade sending someone else in his place to post-game TV spots because he refused to appear on the BBC.
I can’t even imagine the unholy sh*tstorm that would come down if Bill Belichick tried that in the US.
When I was studying journalism somebody once told me that journalism is about telling stories. If you can’t tell the story without hearing Lynch deliver some bland nothing answer to some bland nothing question in front of a herd of reporters then maybe the story itself needs a bit of work.
We shouldn’t have the automatic right to access to people that want to remain private or are hugely uncomfortable speaking in public. That doesn’t mean that stories about intensely private people are never told, it just means we have to work a little harder to get them. When we do, they tend to be worth the extra effort.
Mike Silver managed to pen the best piece of the week on Lynch because he spoke to him quietly and individually before this mess happened. He was able to tell the story of Lynch because he made the effort to get the story and do it in a way that made Lynch comfortable enough to open up.
Shoving a microphone in the guy’s face and asking him the first benign question that pops into your head in front of dozens of other people is unlikely to yield the same results.
I said earlier today that I might have sympathy with anyone who was unable to ask him a question if I could be convinced that anybody there actually had anything interesting to ask the guy.
The whole media week before the Super Bowl has become a circus, and though I’m sure some very meaningful questions filter their way through to players and coaches at some point in the middle of the whole thing, the best things I’ve read this week had absolutely nothing to do with those Q&A sessions.
We shouldn’t be demanding that a guy answer questions for an hour a day just to satisfy our peculiar sense of entitlement to limitless access.
Sit back, allow the guy to be quiet and private if he wants to be, and work on telling us a story.