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Mon, Sep 15, 2014

WOODY: Athletes owe it to fans to speak up

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When I read that the NFL had fined Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch $50,000 for refusing to talk to the media during the regular season, I had one reaction: good.

Let Lynch put his money where his mouth ought to be.

Understand, I’m biased, having spent four decades writing about jocks from high schools to Super Bowls, and I’ve had my share of snubs. Most of the time I could care less, although having a quote or two to drop in a story made my job a tad easier by filling up a news hole on deadline.

Let’s face it: 90 percent of what an athlete has to say boils down to “I’m really excited/disappointed that we won/lost,” with a few “you knows” dropped in.

Most of them aren’t exactly Winston Churchill, if you get my drift.

It’s just that a jock-snub is irritating as a matter of principle. It’s peevish and selfish.

Athletes have no obligation to the media, but they do have an obligation to the fans who support them. The sports media — as bothersome, irksome and obnoxious as some of us can be at times — is the conduit between the players and the fans.

Joe Sixpack can’t stroll into the Seahawks locker room and ask Lynch what he thinks about the big game, the 4-3 defense, Miley Cyryus’ twerking or global warming. But, the media can, and it’s our job to ask the questions for the fans and relay the information.

Is it self-serving? Sure, it is. We get paid to do it, and the newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV networks we work for make money off our reportage.

But so do the athletes and the teams they play for, and that makes it a symbiotic relationship.

Without media coverage, a team — amateur or pro — will dry up and blow away. It generates interest, and interest drives ticket sales, sponsorships and TV ratings.

My longtime friend Pat Summitt was a pioneering genius at cultivating media coverage. When Summitt arrived at UT, she realized the value of publicity for her fledgling Lady Vols program and relentlessly pursued it.

At a time when the media largely ignored women’s basketball, Summitt wrangled widespread coverage for her program. The publicity helped her recruit top players, draw fans and build a dynasty.

Will the Seattle Seahawks franchise fold if Lynch doesn’t do media interviews? No.

But if no player in the NFL does media interviews, the league will suffer.

The NFL knows that, which is why it requires players to cooperate with the media.

Along that same line, I’ve always been amused by coaches who put practices and players off-limits to the media. Do they really think we’re going to reveal their lonesome Polecat trick play to the Russians?

NASCAR has a media-cooperation rule similar to the NFL’s. Each race’s Top 3 finishers must attend a post-race press conference and answer questions. The answers can be “Uh-huh,” or “kiss my foot,” but the drivers at least have to sit there and grunt.

One season, Tony Stewart got his knickers in a wad and, like Lynch, went on a media hunger strike.

His sponsor, which was paying around $10 million a year for the publicity Stewart was shunning, wasn’t amused. “Taciturn Tony” turned talkative.

If an athlete is going to take the goodies — a fat pro contract or a college grant-in-aid — they have an obligation to support the franchise or program that supports them. That includes doing media interviews.

They don’t have to like it. They don’t have to be good at it. But, they have an obligation to at least make the effort, and their bosses have a right to see that they do.

Teams can’t keep their players from being jerks if they insist, but they can keep them from being mute jerks.

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Football, Marshawn Lynch, NASCAR, NFL, Racing, Sports, Voices
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