I hate stereotypes. A stereotype is built on a lazy conclusion. It isn’t challenging or original and it dulls the imagination. I’m not alone in this. I know an Asian writer in New York, who right now is leading a protest against the special screening of Breakfast at Tiffanys. It seems the bumbling, incoherent Chinese neighbor portrayed by Mickey Rooney is still quite offensive to her.
I get it. Sometimes the way people are portrayed has personal resonance. To be portrayed in an unflattering way is annoying. But to cast yourself as something less than who you can be is even more unnerving.
Marshawn Lynch has become a stereotype. For that I’m disappointed because it wasn’t always so. When I first met the young man he was an unassuming sophomore at Cal. He wasn’t even the most decorated or well-known back in the conference—that particular distinction belonging to Reggie Bush at the time.
Lynch was reluctant to speak about himself, hesitant to hark his wares. Even when I tried to goad him into an opinion— by casually mentioning that Reggie Bush was the best back in the conference, he stood fast. Oh, there was a response. His mouth opened and his eyes narrowed. But then he paused, and swallowed his response and replaced it with a shrug of the shoulders. That was all the evidence we needed that Lynch was resigned to showing and not voicing his skill.
That day Lynch’s cousin and Cal teammate, the slightly built Robert Jordan, did most of the talking. Actually, they spoke for one another, recalling one another’s best plays, each one talking the other one up. It was cute and charming the way college kids can be sometimes.
Back then Marshawn Lynch was the would be star with soft feet, a softer voice and a way of running the ball that was urgent. That was the story. A good story. A nice story, not great. Just nice.
But in 2007, shortly after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, the Marshawn Lynch story lost all of its niceties and began to devolve into the garden variety tale of an athlete’s misadventures in the big city. The story took on some intrigue.
When it came out that Lynch had grazed a pedestrian in the streets of Buffalo, it was enough to give us pause. How often does that happen? It seems Lynch was rather careless. For this his license was suspended, but not the benefit of doubt.
But the following year Lynch’s story got even more exciting. Police officers were patrolling the Fox Hills area of Culver City when they were hit by the aroma of weed coming from a 2006 Mercedes Benz. The officers found three black males, four joints, and a loaded gun. That’s the fuzzy math which easily adds up to a stereotype. Lynch was suspended three games and the doubts about him reinstated.
Today, Marshawn Lynch stands in a Seattle court room for suspicion of drinking while driving. If this were a scripted drama, the actor portraying Lynch would be one who had probably been typecast. He would play a young, thoughtless kid from Oakland, who after he got 3 million dollars in his jeans, simply lost his way. That story’s been done before. I’d prefer something more original.
I’d prefer a scene from early 2011, with Marshawn Lynch starring as himself. It was during a playoff game between Lynch’s new team, the Seahawks and the defending champion Saints. You see, wedged in between that first arrest and this latest DUI, Lynch ran. By that I mean he made the kind of run all professional running backs aspire to make, but seldom make them because they’re playing against other professionals.
Within the course of a 67 yard game winning touchdown, Lynch performed all of the compulsory skills by which running backs are measured: he hit the hole with resolve, his vision made him cut back, then he ran through tackles—eight to be exact—at the end discarding cornerback Tracy Porter, flinging him to the turf in a limbs-flailing Raggedy Andy kind of way. It was both memorable and imaginative.
Its significant now because the Saints defense has been cast as ruthless marauders who would just as soon have you whacked than allow you to single handedly beat them and puncture their image. But Lynch did that very thing.
He didn’t say much about it either.
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