Thursday, November 20, 2014

The silent treatment

So, yes, as it turns out, silence is golden. At least if you're the NFL finemeisters.

They just scooped $100,000 from Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch for blowing off the media in Kansas City last Sunday, a violation of the NFL's mandated media-access rule that was not his first. Lynch, rather famously, doesn't like to talk to the media. Remember  all that artificial Super Bowl Media Day drama (because artificial drama is Media Day's preferred milieu) about whether Lynch would actually show up? And then, when he did, whether he would actually say anything?

Well ... he did show up. And, no, he didn't say anything that survives in memory.

This is pretty standard for Lynch, and that sends me veering toward a perilously heretical thought for a journalist: Why is the NFL fining guys whose thing obviously isn't talking to the media?

I say that because Lynch did make himself available on Wednesday, and it was pretty much a farce. He addressed questions specific to what happened in the Kansas City game (when he stayed on the field at halftime for treatment) by talking about his shoes and his favorite rap stars.

In other words, it was a waste of everyone's time, as pretty much every media interaction with him is.  So why make him do it? More to the point, why does the media keep going to him?

Maybe it's just me -- I have some odd notions about things, I'll admit -- but I'm a big fan of not wasting time, so if I were covering the Seahawks, I'd have written off Lynch a long time ago. I've been in enough NFL locker rooms to know there are plenty of funny, willing, engaging go-to's for quotes for just about any situation imaginable. So, unless you have a specific question only he can answer, who needs Marshawn Lynch? Especially if he's not likely to answer your specific question anyway?

This whole kerfuffle about media access always amuses me, because one of the things you quickly learn about the NFL is how media unfriendly it occasionally can be. Yes, teams make players available, but usually only at very specific times and under very specific circumstances. The rest of the time ...

Two stories.

One involves training camp. Last time I covered the Colts camp (and the Colts since have changed this policy, in fairness), media members were allowed to watch practice. But only if they stood in  one corner of one end zone. And they weren't allowed to tweet. And no cellphones were allowed on the premises. For a while, until a mass outcry forced the Colts to relent, media members weren't even allowed to take a notepad and a pen to practice, lest they, you know, do their jobs and take notes.

It was like dealing with the Kremlin. Only no complimentary vodka.

Story No. 2 comes from just this fall. I was assigned to do a feature story for the fall edition of Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly, for whom I regularly write. I decided to do something on Jay Cutler -- nothing special, just a nice feature that would, by necessity, since the publication is a quarterly, be fairly broad-based. I'd done pretty much the same thing last fall on Andrew Luck, a story with which the Colts, to their credit, had no problem.

The Bears did. In an exchange of emails with their media relations guy, I was quizzed as to what the specific nature of the story would be, and why I was doing something on Cutler, and on and on. Eventually he turned me down, saying, in so many words, that the post-practice media availability was pretty much restricted to game-related topics. He suggested I come back in training camp next summer.

I will.

If I can get past the guards, that is.


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