Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have something glaringly obvious in common. They both struggle mightily speaking on camera. That, however, is where the similarities end.
Marshawn Lynch, who thousands of people pay to watch play on Sundays, earned a base salary of $6 million last year.* Roger Goodell, who no fan would put down money to do anything other than perhaps be hooked up to a lie detector, made $44 million.
Marshawn Lynch is financially forced by the league to talk to the media, ideally to mouth the same clichés every other player is hardwired to repeat. He spoke at the Super Bowl Media Day this week and twenty-nine times repeated seven words that speak the truth of a league that demands players to double as corporate pitchmen: “I’m here so I won’t get fined.” If Lynch hadn’t made an appearance, he would have faced a gobsmacking $500,000 fine.
Roger Goodell is under no obligation to talk to the public, even though he oversees a league that has received billions in corporate welfare and whose central office is designated by the federal government as a tax-free nonprofit. As Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch’s teammate who has never been uncomfortable in front of a microphone, said, Lynch should not be obligated to speak “any more than the commissioner is obligated to speak.”
Marshawn Lynch has also been fined $20,000 by the NFL for grabbing his crotch, which is Lynch’s customary move when he scores a particularly explosive touchdown. Roger Goodell’s league sells a framed collage that includes the very image of Lynch tugging his testicles for $149.95. While Lynch writes checks, Goodell profits on both ends, while also perhaps grabbing his junk.
Marshawn Lynch, who it’s been theorized by friends has a social anxiety disorder, is mocked mercilessly by the media for his lack of desire to speak to them and his inability to sound like Peyton Manning. Roger Goodell, whose only disorder is inordinate blushing when challenged, receives no such casual barbs. He has actually felt some media heat this year over his years of covering up cases of domestic violence. Yet despite every misstep, he was still praised by on a primetime NFL playoff broadcast by announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth for his “integrity” and making domestic violence “part of the national conversation.” (This is, as I’ve written elsewhere, like praising Goldman Sachs for making corporate greed “part of the national conversation.”)
Richard Sherman put it perfectly in a piece he wrote this week for Sports Illustrated. “Under Goodell the league continues to put players like Marshawn Lynch in a position to be mocked by the media, which seems to get a kick out of seeing people struggle on camera. As teammates we’re angry because we know what certain people do well and we know what they struggle with. Marshawn’s talking to the press is the equivalent of putting a reporter on a football field and telling him to tackle Adrian Peterson.”
Sherman also pointed out exactly why so many players—particularly black players—hold a hostility toward an older contemptuous sports media, writing, “Some of the same people slamming Marshawn for not talking are just as likely to condemn the Browns’ Andrew Hawkins and Johnson Bademosi for protesting police brutality with T-shirts. They want to hear us speak, but only if we’re saying something they want to hear.”
There is one last similarity between both men: they both generate gobs of money for the thirty-one billionaires that run the league. The difference however is that Marshawn Lynch will be thrown on the scrapheap as soon as he no longer has the ability to perform. Roger Goodell continues to be paid long after he has proven in practice that he is a liability to players, their families, and the future of the league. I would love to be able to pull off a “Lucy and Ricky” scenario and for one week, start Roger Goodell at running back for the Seahawks and put Marshawn Lynch in the Commissioner’s chair. Seattle would surely suffer. The league, however, would register an immediate improvement. If nothing else, on game day, we’d all get a whole lotta Skittles.