November 6, 2013 in Sports

Lynch overcomes rough start in his life, NFL career

Larry Stone Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Breaking tackles earned Marshawn Lynch the nickname “Beast.”
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SEATTLE – When it comes to Marshawn Lynch’s mindset – a hot Seahawks topic – we’re pretty much left to interpreting his gestures, parsing his body language, reading between the lines.

These days, of course, there is much to ask the enigmatic running back. It would be great to probe Lynch’s thoughts about how his season has evolved, his role in the offense, and his reaction to not getting the ball at the goal line in back-to-back weeks.

Instead, Lynch has chosen, for the most part, to remain silent with the media. That is his prerogative. But after watching the extended interview Lynch did with ESPN’s Jeffrey Chadiha for the “E:60” segment that ran last week, I can’t help but lament what we’re missing.

In the piece, which focused on how Lynch’s rough Oakland, Calif., upbringing has shaped his personality, the 27-year-old came across as sincere and compassionate.

His analysis of the Beast Quake run, in which Lynch portrayed that signature play in the 2010 postseason as an extended metaphor for his life, was one of the most profound answers I’ve ever heard from any athlete:

“Growing up, being where I’m from, a lot of people don’t see the light. I didn’t see the light in that play. Went forward, ran into some trouble. Being on food stamps, living in the projects. Running headfirst into linebackers. Start to play football. Things opened up for me a little bit. Breaking a couple more tackles. Going to jail. Getting in trouble. Coming out of that. Touchdown.

“I guess you could say that run is symbolic of my life.”

Lynch didn’t shy away from the stumbles that have plagued him since he turned pro in 2007 – a gun charge, a hit-and-run incident, a DUI.

When asked about the perception that he is a thug, Lynch became emotional, tearing up before answering.

“I would like to see them (critics) grow up in project housing authorities, being racially profiled growing up, sometimes not even having nothing to eat, sometimes having to wear the same damn clothes to school for a whole week. Then all of a sudden a big-ass change in their life, like their dream come true, to the point they’re starting their career, at 20 years old, when they still don’t know (bleep). I would like to see some of the mistakes they would make.”

Clearly, there is a deep reservoir of emotions churning within Lynch.

But with rare exceptions – and never more openly than with Chadiha – Lynch has chosen to share his innermost feelings only with teammates, friends and family.

Just about the only other public access to Lynch these days comes via his ubiquitous plumbing commercial, which shows a playful side that teammates say is part of his persona.

“He’s got a sense of humor to him,” said fellow running back Robert Turbin. “I’m glad he did those things so people can see he’s not what they perceive, this macho dude. He’s just regular. He’s cool.”

Richard Sherman calls Lynch “one of the most misunderstood people in the game. I think he’s a great philanthropist. He does anything for kids. He’ll tell you that before anything. If there’s adults around, he’ll just be like, whatever. Basically you guys get out the way.’

“But if there’s a bunch of kids, he’ll do whatever he can to help them, to make sure that they have everything they need, to make sure that they get a better chance, and he does it in his own unique way. And I think that if more people saw that side of him, they would look at him differently.”

So I asked Sherman if he would like to see Lynch show that side more frequently. His answer cuts to the paradox that is Beast Mode.

“I wouldn’t, to tell you the truth, because that’s not him. There’s one thing about Marshawn, he’s himself, all the time. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He doesn’t try to disguise and be someone else. He’s a very unique individual, and he is himself 100 percent of the time. I respect the world out of him for being himself all the time because he’s genuine.”

The conclusion is, Lynch is deeper than we think, but part of his mystique is the mystery.

As Michael Robinson correctly noted late last week, much of the power of the “E:60” segment came from Lynch’s reticence. So rare are his public pronouncements that when he opens himself up like that, it’s riveting.

Robinson, who is close to Lynch, agrees there is much more to the running back than meets the eye.

“He cares a lot more about his teammates than people think. He cares a lot more about this game than people think. He wants to be great a lot more than what people think. He’s just not a guy that’s going to do it for the camera. That’s how he is.”

And that is how he’ll stay.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email