Marshawn Lynch never said he wasn't a role model. He never had a Charles Barkley moment. If anything, Lynch has embraced being an example to young people – probably because he recognizes that it's entirely out of his control – he just doesn't act the way most expect him to act. In school, we're taught to wait in line; Lynch runs through them. We're taught to speak when spoken to; Lynch speaks when he has something to say.
Lynch's demeanor has mostly been used against him when he avoids talking to the media about things that mostly don't matter, but his return to the NFL and to Oakland started with a cause: He wanted to give Bay Area fans one more thing to remember before their move to Las Vegas. After sitting during the national anthem on Saturday as the Raiders opened their preseason schedule, Lynch has shown that he's ready and willing to use his power of influence on the mainstage for other, more significant worldwide causes, too.
That's not surprising to those who know him well.
"He's very involved in trying to make change at a lot of different levels," says Doug Hendrickson, Lynch's longtime agent. "What people don't see is that he's out in the streets, in the schools, reaching kids on a weekly basis. There isn't fanfare, cameras, or tweeting, he's out there making meaningful differences with these kids. That's the cool thing he does that most people don't see."
Hendrickson says that he doesn't believe Lynch would have returned to football if not for the Raiders plan to move the team, but he wanted to do something good for the city he loves more than anything. After vocalizing support last September for Colin Kaepernick, who started this movement a year ago and has since been unable to find an NFL team that'll sign him to the deal he wants. So it's not surprising then that Lynch has picked up where the former 49ers quarterback left off. On Sunday, we found out he is not going at it alone, when former teammate and fellow Hendrickson client Michael Bennett of the Seahawks also took a seat during the national anthem.
Bennett could not be more different than Lynch when it comes to speaking to the media, but the pair clearly have an agenda when it comes to taking responsibility for the power they have as NFL superstars and trying to use it to enact social changes at a time when racial tensions in the streets are as high as they've been in decades.
"Very rarely do you get two superstar players at the forefront trying to make change, whether it be socially or politically," says Doug Hendrickson, Lynch's longtime agent.
"They're two athletes that I consider throwbacks," says Hendrickson, who compares the fight we're seeing from Marshawn and Bennett today to the same ones that we saw in Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali in the past. "These guys are not afraid to speak their minds and they live the way they want to live. Right, wrong, or indifferent, you gotta respect that. Very rarely do you get two superstar players at the forefront trying to make change, whether it be socially or politically. We haven't seen it from a lot of people. A lot of star athletes don't do it."
Lynch, as expected, has not said much since sitting on Saturday. Bennett, also on brand, has been very vocal on the subject, first talking to the media at length after the game and then on Tuesday publishing a 1,030-word letter on Yahoo! Sports. Bennett, who is working on a book called "Things That Make White People Uncomfortable," says in the piece that he felt like "the conversation wasn't over."
"I think I'm at the point where spiritually, this is what you do. You dedicate your life to helping make change and using your platform to do it. You continuously have to be on that path to keep going, challenging yourself to do it. I think I'm inspired to keep doing more, even with all the hate going on. I'm inspired to keep trying to make a change."
Citing Kaepernick as an example of an athlete who is actually doing things in the community and not just talking, Bennett wasn't surprised that Lynch is also a man of action and not words.
Given that Lynch made the first move on Saturday, and that Bennett admitted that he wrestled with the idea of actually taking a seat on the bench right up until the moment he had to either sit or get off the pot, it's clear that Lynch is not only a role model to kids, but to other prominent athletes. "Look at any player in the league, they all want to do what Marshawn does," adds Hendrickson. "None of these guys really want to speak to the media. None of these guys want to conform to the way a lot of these guys have to do it. But very few guys have the wherewithal to do what Marshawn has done and that's why he's one of the most respected players of any athlete in any sport, what he's done and how he's done it. Without question."
Lynch – who has been accused in the past of being a bad role model and whom Stephen A. Smith once called "incredibly selfish" because he believes Lynch has a responsibility to utilize his national presence (what is last weekend's actions if not using that responsibility with the best intentions) – is in fact incredibly active in his community, with the nation's youth, and in giving back to those who have the same disadvantages that he once had. Scenes like the one in Charlottesville are concerning to most, but growing up in Oakland, where police brutality riots erupted in 2009 following the shooting death of Oscar Grant, Lynch probably knew that the least he could do is stand up, fall in line, and pretend like nothing's wrong. He didn't choose to do the least he could do.
Lynch knows that nothing is wrong. Something's very wrong. And by his own nature, he hates falling in line. It's what Hendrickson loves about clients like Lynch and Bennett.
"I applaud both of these guys because life is short," Hendrickson says. "You either stand for something or you play your time and leave. Both of these men have not been afraid to do it their way."
Which other players are going to stop worrying about what others think of them, and instead start taking accountability for the fact that the people watching are already judging them anyway. At least let them judge you for what you believe in, not what you'll stand for.