In the vast US sporting landscape, the month of January is unique. It is the month seemingly overrun with a singular professional athletic event: the NFL Playoffs. Though admittedly rusty on the current ins and outs of the National Football League (perhaps a result of the perpetual heartache bestowed unto me by my beloved New York Jets), I’ve noticed that the month has already seen many of the game’s marquee names from the (last) decade spattered across airwaves and sports pages: Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, Richard Sherman, et al.
Another such name from the season’s playoff conversation is Marshawn Lynch. Otherwise known as «Beast Mode», the talented, ferocious-on-the-field Lynch has been nothing short of a bonafide enigma throughout his decade+ career. Now on his second stint with Seattle’s Seahawks organization (with whom he won the 2013 Super Bowl and returned to in a losing effort the next year, alongside the previously mentioned Richard Sherman), Marshawn Lynch remains one of the games most colourful characters (look no further than his affinity for Skittles, for example). Beloved by many, reviled by others (including US President Donald Trump), the reclusive, yet imposing 1.80m/(98kg) Running Back has consistently found himself the center of many current ideological and experiental battles fought across the United States media, political, and sporting spheres.
Interestingly enough, it is in this constant media-specific discourse where the off the field Marshawn Lynch perhaps holds his most influential actions. Back in the aforementioned Super Bowl run 2013 season, Lynch decided to stop talking to the media altogether (at least, on the record). In the US, of course, not treating your media obligations, especially as a star athlete, is met with severe financial consequences and an invitation for the abundance of speculation that comes with it. Most of Lynch’s public press responses were single words or succinct phrases: «Yeah», «I’m Thankful». His 2015 response Super Bowl media scrum, «I’m just here so I don’t get fined, bro», cut deep into the media’s insatiable hunger for narrative control, and with Lynch being a prominent African-American figure, exacerbating the underlying, unspoken racial and class dynamics that lay the foundation of all American life.
«I’m just here so I don’t get fined, bro»
Unlike his football peer Colin Kaepernick, the anti-police violence activist and former San Francisco Forty-Niners’ Quarterback at the center of the countries national anthem kneeling controversy, Lynch has preferred a (trying to) stay out of the headlines approach, using relative silence as his revolutionary tool of choice. Of course, any such behavioral anomaly coming from African Americans ultimately brings forth the exact opposite reaction from those who write the headlines. Those like Lynch and Kaepernick’s actions are always considered political in nature and, therefore, yield constant vitriol. In the case of Lynch, however, he himself does not offer an iota of insight regarding his actual mindset on the matter. Theorists, scholars, journalists, they can all assume, which they do. However, it is Lynch who controls his narrative from this space of silence, privileging the work of his Oakland rejuvenating Fam 1st Family Foundation to the futility of media feuds.
The new documentary Marshawn Lynch: A History from Director David Shields and Executive Producer Danny Glover, premiered last year at the Seattle International Film Festival before heading over to Amsterdam in November for IDFA. Constructed entirely from archival footage, the kaleidoscopic visual essay is a powerful and multi-layered look at the power of silence as protest, tracing the controversial career of the (then retired) NFL star, drawing parallels with the wider history of the United States itself. In placing hundreds of clips from thousands of hours, tracing Lynch’s days as University of California, Berkeley’s second all-time rusher through his days in the snowy terrain on the field for the Buffalo Bills to his career prime championship seasons in Seattle to his Oakland Raider «homecoming», Marshawn Lynch: A History cuts deep into a media complex all-too-often profiting from the embedded dynamics of racial oppression.
This oppression of the black activist class is an approach that dates back to the country’s original sin: slavery. To draw parallels, one can simply look to the life of the NBA’s Allen Iverson. He, a brash NBA superstar with talents exceeding mosts, had been subject to everything from false assault accusations to the more deceptive depths of racially motivated control like the politics of Black hair and dress. In Marshawn Lynch: A History, Shields explores this reality, as well as interjecting its peripherals of gentrification, oppressive capitalism, and cultural suppression, with figures across the gamut of discipline and time. Tupac Shakur, Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, Ryan Coogler, Boots Riley, and Bill Russell are but a handful of the film’s interviewees. These interviews cut together with the film’s archival use of racial violence, current, and past. Everything from H. Rap Brown to the shooting of Walter Scott, often juxtaposed against footage featuring the very real violence of American Football (racial dynamics aside, the NFL also deals with the serious issue of player health and safety, particularly coming int he form of traumatic brain injury later in life), plays a role in constructing Marshawn Lynch: A History thematic narrative.
«All about that action»
In a racist society looking to oppress, suppress, and exploit its citizenry, the historically vulnerable pay the majority of its price. And, in this day and age, of armchair activism and «woke» culture purity tests, counter approaches have varied drastically, frequently settling within the inherently divisive, loud space of social media. Yet, in silence, Marshawn Lynch lives up to one of his most famous succinct interview responses, that he’s «all about that action». Through a legacy of silent eloquence, Lynch stands as the ultimate in contemporary dissent. Where an approach requiring as much consistency as self-imposed public muteness, Marshawn Lynch is a singular figure whose very existence alone acts as a demonstrative act of defiance. «All about that action» on the field and off.
Featured Image: Dave Sizer