Freedom of Speech and Employer Rights – Part II
Speaking up for Marshawn Lynch…
And now for something really interesting! We’ve just been through a recent mini-flap when the star of a reality TV show that is evidently about the manufacture of duck calls (nobody can make this stuff up) made some hateful remarks in a magazine interview. He was placed on hold by the producers, threatening his career, and then, after the furor died down, reinstated. This educated a lot of people on the differences, at least legally, between your right to free speech as an individual and the right of an employer to not be misrepresented or embarrassed by your actions.
This week the topic has returned, although reversed, inverted, and turned upside down, or something like that. The Seahawks excellent “Beast Mode” running back Marshawn Lynch was fined $50,000 by the league because he has NOT talked to reporters. It has evidently been his practice to not give interviews during the season. Sort of like he prefers to let his performance do the talking for him and spend his time focusing on his job. How naïve!
Even better, for fans of the absurd, the NFL was evidently not aware that he was not talking to reporters until he chose, at long last, to allow one media interview. The papers reported, with some glee, that the interview lasted for 1 minute and 28 seconds. It was the brevity of the time which made the story spread, not anything he said. In fact, he said utterly nothing that was surprising or even interesting, if it were anyone but him. When the NFL discovered, belatedly, that he had not been talking all season, he was fined $50,000.
As we look at this, let us bear in mind that $50,000 is not a large sum for this man. In comparing our relative financial pictures, it would be like fining me a nickel. Secondly, he presumably can appeal, or perhaps the Seahawks or some outraged local fan of means will pay the fine for him. The money is not the issue.
Still, you have to wonder. OK, maybe you do not and I merely choose to. What happens if Mr. Lynch chooses to go along with the league’s dictates and begins to give long and substantive interviews? What if he gives out personal opinions that the same league schmucks who fined him find offensive? What is the fine for saying things because you are ordered to that are not deemed appropriate? Can he ask the league for some “boiler plate” language statements and just stick to 8 or 10 of them as he sees fit?
After all, he has not really been silent at all – just to the media. Everyone in Seattle with a TV (and is there anyone left who wants a TV and does not have one?) has heard his oft-repeated commercials for a local plumbing concern. I can hear him saying “Stop Freakin’ Call Beacon” as I type this. In fact, he has spoken often to his fans, in a manner that he finds acceptable and that presumably pays him for his time and words, which is fair. The only people he has not spoken to are the media – the people who will hang on his every word as long as things are going well, and attack his viscera with claws stained with gallons of black ink should things not go well or if he fumbles at a critical time.
Statistics show that the length of career for a running back in the NFL can be measured in years by using the fingers of one hand. Maybe two in extraordinary cases. He will leave the game with a great deal of money, which I hope he has invested well. He is also pretty much certain to leave the game with physical impairments that will be with him for the rest of his life and will present challenges to any efforts to live long enough to enjoy the money he has made. And now he finds that even his small effort to maximize his impact, and perhaps avoid public speaking, which many people find terrifying, are getting in the way.
And who is the clown or clowns who levied the fine? The same people who did not notice that he was not speaking the entire season? What of players who are NEVER asked for an interview? Are they at a competitive and potentially economic advantage? Should people who are not aware of who is talking and who is not be allowed to pass out fines in a manner that defies logic? What if Mr. Lynch calls for the dismissal of league officials who are interfering, illegally, which his right to perform his job to the best of his ability?
What is the fine for telling the emperor he has no clothes? Pretty steep, I am afraid.
I wish Mr. Lynch well, and I hope he finds the entire situation as amusing in a bizarre way as I do, and does not let the fine distract him from his purpose. Since it seems obvious that his original intent was to keep silent to the media to help him retain focus, a fine for doing so that also blurs that focus would seem cruel.
Even for the NFL.
Copyright 2014 David Preston