Earlier this week, I penned a piece on the late Sean Taylor. The premise centered around Eric Rivera’s guilty verdict why finding closure with Taylor’s death has been one of the more arduous and taxing ordeals I’ve ever had to experience as a sports fan.
That’s the thing about sports. We full immerse ourselves in the culture. We spend much of the year reading, writing, drafting and following the movements of our favorite players and teams. We convince ourselves we’re as important to the game as the guys we buy jerseys or shoes for. And to a certain degree, we are. So when one of our own is vanquished – especially in the fashion Taylor was – a legitimate pain resides exposing a wound that, in some cases, never heals.
Throughout the majority of Taylor’s short, but hectic life, “misunderstood” stands as perhaps the most applicable term in defining him. His troubles with the law were documented, as were dustups on the field. His staunch resistance in interacting with the media somewhat played an influence into the instant “he brought it on himself” reaction some members played immediately following his death.
What later came to the surface was that the former University of Miami standout kept his responses limited, circle small and chose to keep to himself. Many of the same qualities find themselves in Marshawn Lynch.
On the surface, the casual football fan recognizes the name Marshawn Lynch as the running back for the Seattle Seahawks, fantasy football stud and the leading actor in what has become one of the most fabled postseason plays in NFL and YouTube history. But the story of the man behind the visor is the one truly worth discussing.
Prior to Jeffri Chadiha’s E:60 profile of Lynch, I don’t think I had ever heard Marshawn utter more than 15 words at once, much less grant a documentary. Twelve minutes later, however, imagining many athletes in any sport more rugged, thick-skinned and authentic doesn’t seem feasible. And it’s because it’s not. Lynch is a one-of-one.
Chadiha does what any respectable journalist would when telling a story. He met Lynch on his turf of Oakland, California. He established a comfortable environment, allowing Lynch to dictate the pace of the piece exposing only what he wanted to expose (which just happened to be everything). Beast Mode’s unfiltered answers are “hairs-stand-on-the-back-of-your-neck”-worthy and drunken with honesty to the point it’s capable to become teary-eyed from introspectiveness and uncontrollable laughter (because he’s a legit funny guy), often times within mere minutes of one another.
From growing up in the projects and embracing life without his father, many of the elements are trademarked in quintessential, stereotyped African-American rites of passage. Numerous characteristics describe Lynch’s narrative, but what it lacks is sugar-coating, PR-contrived responses or brand or image-obsessed motivation. He paints himself in the only light that’s ever been possible – his own.
And much like Sean Taylor, Lynch recognizes his faults and imperfections as a man, including an impending DUI case. He employs as many excuses as the times he’s shied away from contact. In other words, none. The late Tupac Shakur (who also called Oakland home) famously said outside of a New York courtroom in 1994, “The only way I’ve been practicing my whole life, to live my life is to be responsible for what I do. I don’t know how to be responsible for what every Black male did, I don’t know. And yes, I am gonna say that I’m a thug, that’s because I came from the gutter and I’m still here. I’m not saying I’m a thug because I wanna rob you or rape people and things.”
Whether or not Marshawn is aware of the quote, the words envelope his take on life. Such constitutes the exact reason why his own reaction to critics labeling him a thug delivers an impact – nearly drawing him to tears – only comparable to one of his own between-the-tackles touchdown runs.
“I would like to see them 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,” said the 27-year-old running back. “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 shit. I would like to see some of the mistakes they would make.”
We’re not afforded responses in this ilk much anymore. I get why, too. But sometimes, simply hearing a person speak candidly from their heart with no fear of retribution or who it offends is therapeutic. Lynch actually gives a damn – about his image, about the people in his life who’ve never abandoned him, about his teammates, about the youth of Oakland and about the game that allowed him to get his mama out of the projects and himself not to become another statistic.
A man is often much more than his mistakes. It’s how and if he betters himself afterwards which matters. Sean Taylor was never given the benefit of that doubt until it was too late and his legacy already predetermined in the eyes of some long before the night of November 26, 2007. Thankfully, in some regard, the same mistake isn’t being made with Marshawn Lynch, the imperfect, common man running back for the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite.
Give a person roses while they can still smell them. Thugs like flowers, too, you know?