“How important was it to keep the ball on the ground and run out the clock?”
“How does your back feel Marshawn?”
“How are you feeling?”
Marshawn Lynch looked down and grinned. The reporters were obviously not getting the hint.
“Marshawn, talk about the Cardinals defense.”
Following this postgame interview and many similar ones to follow, the NFL fined Lynch $100,000. The reason for this is found in a rule that states, “Reasonable cooperation with the news media is essential to the continuing popularity of our game and its players.”
Eloquence has never been the professional athlete’s forte. To explain the task of beating an opponent would leave the athlete tongue tied and frustrated. Joe DiMaggio once said, “I’m a ballplayer, not an actor.” When asked about the odds against a boxing opponent, Sonny Liston replied, “I don’t know. I’m not a bookmaker. I’m a fighter.” Leave the competing to the athletes; leave the articulacy to the journalists.
Often times, because professional athletes block out distractions and focus only on the task at hand during competition, postgame interviews are difficult. “What were you thinking when you hit the home run?” “How were you able to come back in the second half?” “How was the team’s performance?” The athlete doesn’t know the answer. His/her job is to play, not to analyze and be a poet. But in order to give the fans what they want, which is some sort of connection, the answers to these questions become deceptively simple. “Well, we did our best and worked hard and everything fell into place.” “Well, I’ll tell ya, I felt fantastic when I saw the ball go in. I saw an opening and it was like slow motion as it went into the net.” “We had a great game because we worked together and never let down.” These typical sorts of answers only scratch the surface of what it means to be a champion and human at the same time.
There are two ways to explain an athlete’s success. One is technical and physical, which is easily explained by the athlete himself/herself. The other is an elusive combination of mystery and metaphysics, which is not easily explained because it involves the complex results of personality. Beginning in the mid-1900s, journalists began to share this side of the sports world that had remained largely untouched by newspapers and magazines.
A great man for this type of personality reporting was Joe DiMaggio. He had become an icon to all Americans, not just for his baseball, but also for his looks, mystique, and marriage to Marilyn Monroe. A lot had been written about him, but very little was actually known. But in 1966, Gay Talese broke the barrier and gave the reader a glimpse of what DiMaggio was really like.
When Esquire released Talese’s article “The Silent Season of a Hero,” the interaction between DiMaggio and a reporter at his family restaurant showed the complexities of the great baseball star’s personality.
“Look,” DiMaggio said, “I do not interfere with other people’s lives. And I do not expect them to interfere with mine. There are things about my life, personal things, that I refuse to talk about. And even if you asked my brothers, they would be unable to tell you about them because they do not know. There are things about me, so many things, that they simply do not know…”
“I don’t want to cause trouble,” the reporter said. “I think you’re a great man…”
“I’m not great, I’m just a man trying to get along,” DiMaggio said softly.
And the reporter left the restaurant.
Like DiMaggio, fans and reporters expect an athlete’s performance to reflect his/her personality, when in fact, this is just a perception. These professional athletes must not only compete, but also market a product—their sport. This is why we find postgame interviews dulled into monotonous declarations of happiness, sadness, or frustration. These relatable thoughts and emotions allow the language of sports to become accessible to all people. But the truth is, no one except the athlete will know what it feels like to have the attention of thousands, yet focus and trust in a God-given talent to accomplish supernatural things with their body and mind.
So Marshawn Lynch doesn’t even try. His responses have become unsatisfying “Yeah’s” for fans and the media. But honestly, we can’t blame him for his silence. Just as frustrated we are by his mysteriousness, he is just as frustrated by the media and sport’s forged bond.
If Marshawn did ever answer a reporter’s questions with more than three words, they might parallel DiMaggio’s words, “I’m not great, I’m just a man trying to get along.” Just like the rest of us.