The Value of Silence

Should athletes have to talk to the media if they absolutely hate it? Are we really missing out on much if they go silent? (USA TODAY Sports)

Should athletes have to talk to the media if they absolutely hate it? Are we really missing out on much if they go silent? (USA TODAY Sports)

Richard Sherman likes to talk. You can tell how invested he is in being understood by how available he makes himself and the way he answers reporters’ questions. The media have a certain affection for people who speak to them candidly and at length. Interview sessions are reconnaissance work for columns and segments and blog posts. Loquacious athletes make writers and producers’ jobs easier. It’s astounding that some people still don’t know to not use the word “articulate” in reference to a black athlete anymore, but that adjective has been invoked a lot this week. Journalists are, in their own blinkered way, trying to pat Sherman on the head for being good copy and allowing them to write easy Richard Sherman Is Not a Thug articles.

Marshawn Lynch isn’t invested in being understood, doesn’t believe it’s worthy of his time. He’s had two media sessions this week and has been highly aloof during both of them, ignoring questions and often responding in six words or less. Predictably, he has been widely admonished by the people who had to stand around with tape recorders while he gave brief non-answers. CBS.com’s Gregg Doyel called Lynch’s Tuesday session “embarrassing.” The Daily News‘ Greg Meyers opined that it’s “really not all that hard” to answer simple questions. Strong take dispenser Pete Prisco tweeted that Lynch would be “begging for attention” in five years. In the same way Sherman feeds reporters quotes, Lynch feeds them indifference. They hate him for it.

One of the questions cited in Meyers’ article is “What is your mind-set going into the game?” which is stupid and not worth answering. Lynch didn’t. Another I heard on video was something like “[The media] are a link between you and the fans” to which Lynch said “I understand that. My fans love me regardless… They ain’t worried about what I got to say,” which is true enough. The fan response to Lynch’s anti-interviews have been overwhelmingly positive. His chat with Deion Sanders was, intentionally or otherwise, funny and entertaining.

The only people loudly grousing about Lynch’s unwillingness to talk are journalists, most of whom are probably already exhausted, and they have another few days of cobbling quotes and worn out storylines together before an actual game is played. Their being peeved is understandable, if insufferable in published form, because no one likes to hear sportswriters complain. (They got their story anyway. Lynch not saying anything is better material than if he had spouted off some clichés about staying focused or whatever.)

Reporters can get as huffy as they want, but it’s not going to change much, and anyway, what can we really gain from athletes who don’t want to talk? If the whole point of making players available to the media is so we can gain some insight into the way they think and perhaps who they are as people, and they don’t want to share that, why is that their fault? There are perhaps not enough athletes like Richard Sherman, who like to talk — not to ease journalists’ burdens, but just because it would make sports more interesting — but there are plenty more who will speak, grudgingly or guardedly, and say very little at all. Most stars are so concerned with protecting their brands that they won’t say anything approaching colorful, and, especially in the NFL, role players aren’t enticed by the prospect of being seen as a nuisance or distraction just so a reporter can write nice things about how thoughtful they are.

There is no real point for athletes who don’t want to talk to the media to do so, because it’s not as if forcing them to sit in front of a bouquet of microphones is going to result in anything worth reading or listening to. At least Marshawn Lynch was honest. He likes to play football and shut up about it in public. I can respect that.

6 thoughts on “The Value of Silence

    • I agree, this is perfectly stated. Mike, I’m amazed at what a “thing” this has become just from an outside perspective. The collective sportswriter tantrum here is astonishing.

      As a huge fan of your writing, I hope you’ll carry a simple message back to your collegues: “It’s not about you, guys.”

  1. I also agree. I speak as a Seahawks fan when I say, we are eating this Lynch stuff up. We love the Beast and who he is; he doesn’t need to speak “stupid nothings” to make us like him. And that he pisses off entitled sportswriters in the process is icing on the skittle cake.

  2. Some Good points there! Thanks.
    A few questions:
    1)Why such a big fine – $100K- for not talking? Would be better to pay some NOT to talk.
    2) Wednesday was called “Super Bowl Media Day”, so why 3-4 days of press conferences with the same players and coaches. We end up hearing basically the same questions, and answers. Let them rest, and practice.
    3)Lynch’s 6-minute interview with Deon was great – humourous, warm, and insightful. People complained about the length. They forget it’s not how long you/they talk. It’s what you say – short and sweet can be very memorable. They didn’t have to make him do it again. His second time showed him as so uncomfortable. Yet they made him do it a third time. Crazy!

  3. RG3 can tell you exactly why athletes should be giving non-answers or no answers even if he can’t seem to do it. It has nothing to do with protecting his brand, moreso avoiding distraction that the bottomless maw that 24hr sports news and radio and articles and blogs churn out if you feed it anything at all.
    I wish all athletes would repeat just these phrases until most of these useless sports talk is gone: “They were able to execute their game plan and made more plays than we did,” and “We were able to execute our game plan and at the end of the day, we made plays when we had to.”
    Many of them already do that, we just need it to be across the board and last long enough to kill most of the nonsense that self sustains on any little thing other than the above that athletes say.

  4. Agreed. I respect Sherman’s skills, but loudmouths have always turned me off. I appreciate and respect even more people like Lynch who do their talking on the field and don’t feed the media hype machine.