Marshawn Lynch and the future of sports celebrity

Like Brando, Lynch doesn’t hate all publicity: He plays with the form in his hilarious Skittles press conference, he trademarked his nickname (“Beast Mode”), he went on Japanese television to taste local candies, he plays Mortal Kombat X with Conan O’Brien and admits that “I’m a button masher FOR SURE.” Back in 2012, he let Sports Illustrated accompany him to Oakland to talk about his philanthropic work with youth in the area, talking briefly about his struggles as a child, but he’s not married, doesn’t have kids, and doesn’t talk about his personal life, other than to repeat the story of how he came to start eating Skittles during the game. An extensive SI piece from last month cobbled together reports from teammates to paint a portrait of a fiercely private and principled man: the type of guy who invites a disadvantaged Seattle youth to every game but never lets the press cover it, whom everyone seemingly calls “the best teammate I’ve ever had.”
Lynch opts not to allow the serious and important work of his life — the substantive work with his foundation, the friendships that underlie his career — be turned into a three-minute reel to be played during the pre-game. “If you’re forced to do something, it’s not as good as if you choose to do it” — that’s what Lynch said before last year’s Super Bowl. Some choose to read that attitude as petulant or spoiled. But it’s also possible to read it as the words of someone who not only sees the publicity apparatus for what it is — toothless, exploitative, often insidiously racist — but acts on that vision.
Some, like California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, call it “authentic.” You might also call it integrity, especially given the abject failure of the mainstream media to serve any role approximating a “check and balance” amid the NFL’s subterfuges when it comes to player misbehavior and abuse.