Marshawn Lynch, Bullying, and The (Old) American Dream

by Elison Alcovendaz

Marshawn Lynch is likely the most physical running back in the NFL. He runs over people. Bulldozes them. Carries defenders into the end zone. His nickname is "Beast Mode" for a reason. Here's an example:

But for however powerful and present he is on the field, he is the opposite in front of media. He is noticeably uncomfortable. He responds with one word answers. Case in point:

If you watched that, then yes, that's how most of his interviews lately have been. NFL players, you see, are required to make themselves available to and cooperate with the media. That's the literal rule. The spirit of the rule is what you see every other player do - they actually talk to the media, who, despite however annoying they might be, have a big role in keeping athletes relevant and in the landscape of the fans' minds. The NFL, being a business, knows this. They have fined Lynch to try and make him converse with the media that helps athletes like Marshawn Lynch make millions of dollars to play a game. 

Several reasons have been discussed. Lynch himself has said he acts this way in front of media because it isn't about him, it's about his team; he doesn't want to be famous, he does it for the love of the game. Admirable, sure. But this is his job. He's contractually obligated. It has also been said that Marshawn Lynch has social anxiety disorder, though at this point, that's based more on what people see than what people know (if he does, then this is a different story). But it has gotten to the point where people have called the way media "treat" Lynch - and by that they mean "asking him questions" and "helping him stay relevant" - and the NFL making Lynch talk to said media, as bullying. The 12th man, the very unique moniker for Seahawks fans, has started a petition to have the NFL stop "bullying" their star running back. While the petition was started by one fan, over 20,000 people have signed the petition, which means that over 20,000 people actually think Marshawn Lynch is being bullied. 

You might see Marshawn Lynch running over a bunch of poor defensive backs and think there's no way this guy could be bullied. You'd be wrong. Bullying can happen to anyone of any size of any profession. But it does encapsulate the way we think about bullying now. I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a father of two young daughters. He was talking about an older teenage girl he knew who threatened to slice her wrists due to being called fat. According to him, it wasn't a repeated thing, it wasn't something that happened often on Facebook or anything, just a passing comment by a classmate jerk (obviously her reaction indicates a deeper issue, but this isn't about her). My friend said if anyone ever called his daughters fat, he would put his boxing lessons to work on their father. Teach them a lesson. Teach them to be a better parent. 

What he didn't say was that he would teach his daughters that their identities and self-worth comes from within. That what people say about you doesn't define you unless you let it define you. 

Here's another anecdote. I have a friend who coaches middle school football. He told me about a kid who was messing around in practice and so was made to run sprints near the end of practice. At about the same time, the kid's dad pulls up in his car and proceeds to grill the coach about making his son run? Huh? I was on several sports teams growing up, and when we had to run laps because we messed up, our parents got angry with us, not the coach. You can Google stories about people beating up coaches due to their kids not getting enough playing time. Is it no longer important for kids to know that it's okay not to be good at something? That people will be better at some things than you your whole life? That after a certain age, you don't get a trophy or credit just for trying? 

And not just kids, but adults, too. A recent article stated that there were two things college students wanted from their professors: to challenge them (great!) and to care about them, to, in a sense, be parental guides to the replace the parents they left behind (what!?). When did we get to a place where a college student's learning wasn't their responsibility (no matter how uncaring or soporific the professor)? When did professors have to be caring people in order for us to learn something? When did we get so, for lack of a better word, "soft"?  

It seems that at some point in the last 20 years or so, there has been a social paradigm shift away from The (Old) American Dream. When I say "old," I mean the ones our immigrant parents believed in - that the individual was still important, that the individual could pick themselves "up by the bootstraps" and make a good life for themselves. Since this ideology centered around the individual, personal accountability was paramount. It also meant that if you didn't make it, it was your fault. 

Of course, The Old American Dream worked because it created systemic inequalities that benefited privileged groups  - institutionalized racism, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, learning deficiencies based on socioeconomics, continued patriarchy, etc. So we as a society did the right thing. We told The Old American Dream to get lost. We moved away from an America that valued individuality and moved toward community, equality. We elected the first black President. We sat in Wall Street and coined "the one percent." We passed gay rights laws in several states. We did a lot of very necessary things. Great things. But what we also did as we moved to community and nurturing was we lost how important the common individual could be. We lost personal accountability. We started expecting the world to do things for us. 

One cannot stress enough the impact of technology here. As things became available at the push of a button, our brains started to slowly become programmed to understand that we really didn't have to work that hard for things. A common complaint of the Millennials, who grew up with this technology, is that they are lazy. That they expect things to happen instead of making things happen. This is all probably a little overblown, but if there's some truth in it, it's because you don't have to go into the world to buy a shirt or a book, you don't have to endure possible rejection by going out and trying to meet someone and see if you're a match, you don't have to go to a library and sort through tons of books to do research; seriously, when was the last time you had a paper cut at work? That doesn't mean these things are bad. In fact, they can be great. But it does mean things are easier. And we get really comfy and cozy with easy...

...which also means we're not as tough. It means everyone has to be PC so people don't get offended. It means kids can move on to the next grade even if they have Fs. It means someone can hide behind a gun and go on a rampage when girls don't like him. It means a parent would rather fight a teaser's parents than maybe teach his kids to have a self-worth that comes from within. It means that we put "my kid is on the honor roll" bumper stickers on our cars. And it means that we expect the world to be nice and kind to us all the time.

In my last blog, I tried to write an honest post about what I've been feeling about this writing thing. But it came across as whiny. It sounded like I expected people just to like me and my writing because I write stuff and try hard. And that's how I sometimes feel. I think we all probably do from time to time. But when a about story gets rejected, or a workshop group tells me how terrible my story is, does that mean I'm being bullied? I think you know the answer.

There is real bullying happening out there. You read about it all the time. Kids getting bullied because they're gay, or poor, or any other number of things. What we probably don't want to do is trivialize what "bullying" is by saying a football player who doesn't like talking to the media is getting bullied, especially when it's part of his job. Is this the same as saying that bullied kids should "toughen up"? Definitely not. It's saying that while we try and make the world kinder, gentler, fairer, we also need to make sure that we're not failing to teach about personal inner strength, that internal self-worth that doesn't always require trophies or pats on the back. It is okay to lose. It is okay to be rejected. It is okay to not be the best at something. And it's certainly okay for someone not to like you. As my Mom always said, the only person who has the authority to make you feel badly about yourself is you.