By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
January 15, 2015
Why do we condemn the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch for not saying enough to the media?
Why do we judge Lynch’s teammate, Richard Sherman, for saying too much and saying it too loudly?
The NFL continues to fine Lynch for not speaking with reporters. (Reportedly, Lynch’s fines now total $100,000.) In an apparent effort to avoid more fines, Lynch has begun saying “I’m thankful” in response to questions from the media.
Collectively, we love to make snap judgments about people based on what they say (see Sherman) or what they don’t say (see Lynch). The media have made caricatures out of these two guys the last couple of years based solely on how much they talk or don’t talk.
It’s a quick-and-easy way to put a label on someone’s character. It doesn’t require you to learn more about a person. To find out what a person actually does or doesn’t do with his or her life.
Actions should always speak louder than words. They tell you a lot more about who a person really is.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson so effectively put it, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”
So what do Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman do with their lives?
Well, they’re both hard-working All-Pro football players, two of the best at their positions in the game. That’s why we’re interested in them.
But what kind of people are they beyond the abundance of words (Sherman) or scarcity of words (Lynch)?
Sherman has been called a thug because of his bravado. But the guy has never been arrested. Having grown up in Watts and Compton, two of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Sherman vowed at a young age to study hard and get out. He graduated second in his high school class with a 4.1 GPA and became the first student-athlete from Compton to ever attend top-ranked Stanford University.
“I strive to always challenge myself to the fullest, whether it be on the football field, weight room, or classroom, and I knew Stanford would give me a great opportunity to challenge myself in every aspect of life,” said Sherman, who not only attended Stanford but also graduated. “I wanted to grow as a student, player, and as a person.”
According to Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Sherman has done just that. He calls Sherman “one of the most intelligent people you will ever meet” and a “great teammate” with “tremendous character.”
Sherman doesn’t think it’s fair the way he’s judged by the media and general public.
“People always say the old cliche ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ but they’re judging a book by its cover (with me),” said Sherman.
“Now if I had got arrested 10 times or committed all these crimes or got suspended for fighting off the field and done all that, then I can accept being a villain. But I’ve done nothing villainous.”
In fact, he’s a guy who gives back to the community.
He spends time being a role model for kids in Comptom, or elsewhere, who don’t “come from anything.” He speaks to at-risk kids and stresses the importance of education and tells them if he can get out and get a college education they can too. With a hands-on approach, he’s helped several kids from his old school go on to college.
“Whatever beginnings you come from, just understand that your circumstances don’t dictate your future… You are limitless,” says Sherman when he talks to young people.
He does more than talk a good game. He started the Richard Sherman Family Foundation to help as many kids as possible have adequate school supplies and clothes. He’s also a spokesperson for SWAG (Student With a Goal).
“This is what NFL players should be doing,” said SWAG founder and president Romel Tune. “They should be giving back.”
Marshawn Lynch is giving back too.
The Fam 1st Family Foundation Lynch started with his cousin works to build self-esteem and academic learning skills in underprivileged youth.
“I love kids, so anytime I have an opportunity to help a kid, I’m all for it,” said Lynch. Lynch plans to dedicate his time to working with kids when he retires from the NFL.
Lynch has also teamed up with NFL legend Joe Montana on charity projects.
“He does so much for the community that a lot of people don’t even see,” Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said.
Teammate Cliff Avril calls Lynch “one of the best teammates” he’s ever played with. “I think people get caught up in all the extra stuff. They portray him to be a completely different guy than what he really is,” said Avril.
“From Little League, to high school, to college, to the pros, he’s the best teammate I’ve ever been around,” according to Seahawks’ receiver Doug Baldwin.
“I think if a lot more people were like him, the NFL would be a better place,” Michael Bennett said.
On the Friday before home games, Lynch picks up a kid and his family from an impoverished background in inner city Seattle and brings them to the Seahawks’ practice facility where he proceeds to show them around and introduce them to coaches and players. He doesn’t allow the Seahawks’ media relations staffers to seek TV or print coverage for these occasions.
“Just last home game, he brought two kids in here, a sick kid from his charity,” said Bennett.
“He walked him through the locker room and showed him around and introduced him to us and just changed the kid’s life. He didn’t call the media and say, ‘Look at me, I’m doing this every week.’ He does a lot of charity work that nobody sees.”
These guys aren’t perfect. Richard Sherman has admitted some of his rants have been immature. Marshawn Lynch has a reckless driving conviction on his record.
But they are far from the picture that’s been painted of them. In this case, the perception isn’t the reality.
Personally, I don’t mind if Sherman speaks his mind, but I’d prefer he demonstrated the class and sportsmanship that Russell Wilson shows on and off the field. And I’d like Lynch to cooperate with the media and share his honest thoughts with reporters — and indirectly his fans.
But I choose to follow Emerson’s lead and judge them more on their actions than how much they talk or don’t talk.
And I wish the NFL pooh bahs would do the same — and then focus more of their energy on the actual thugs, villains, and criminals within their league.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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