'Marshawn being Marshawn' drags Raiders into national anthem debate they didn't seek

·NFL columnist

Late last month, when Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was asked about the franchise’s eventual move to Las Vegas, he simply wasn’t having it. Didn’t care to think about it. Didn’t want to waste time addressing it again.

“I’m pretty good at putting my energy and my attention, my state of being, on where I am and what I’m doing,” Del Rio said. “That’s what I want our guys to do. That’s it.”

This is the moment I thought about as I heard Del Rio address questions about Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who sat on a cooler eating a banana during the national anthem in Saturday’s preseason road game against the Arizona Cardinals. For a coach who is trying hard to have a unilateral focus on winning a Super Bowl, Del Rio isn’t going to want to spend his time answering non-football questions regarding Lynch or any other player. Del Rio is already tired of the Las Vegas storyline. And from a football standpoint, he has legitimate defensive concerns brewing with his team. Now he has Lynch sitting for the national anthem, which may be something social or political – or nothing at all.

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch didn't offer an explanation of why he sat during Saturday's national anthem. (AP)
Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch didn’t offer an explanation of why he sat during Saturday’s national anthem. (AP)

As usual, Lynch isn’t talking, which isn’t out of the norm. But in this case, it’s a shame. And for the Raiders, it’s a problem.

As a point of reference here, I’m not a member of the “Marshawn should talk to the media” crowd. I have gone back and forth on my feelings about Lynch in the past, but here is where I’ve settled: Lynch is completely authentic to himself. And I like that – a lot. Regardless of whether he wants to talk to the media, at least Lynch isn’t phony. I’d rather he be himself and flip the bird to those he doesn’t like than try to placate the NFL public-relations machine. It’s not in the best interests of media, but so be it. At least it’s authentic.

There is, however, an issue if he’s not going to enlighten the masses on the whole anthem deal. Here’s why: this potentially goes beyond football, and if that kind of statement is going to be made, he should at least stand up and say why. That’s why Colin Kaepernick should be granted some level of respect, because whether you love him or hate him for his stance that has morphed into political and social commentary, at least he didn’t ask other people to explain his “why.”

Right now, everyone else is left to explain for Lynch, leaving it to be interpreted any number of ways – correctly or not.

That draws the Raiders into a debate they didn’t ask for. The silence. The “Marshawn being Marshawn” and refusing to speak for himself. That leaves everyone else filling in the blanks. Del Rio tried to do exactly that Saturday night, extending an explanation that doesn’t appear to be lining up squarely with the truth.

“[Marshawn] said, ‘This is something I’ve done for 11 years. It’s not a form of anything other than me being myself,’ ” Del Rio said of Lynch sitting for the anthem. “I said, ‘So you understand how I feel: I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem, but I’m going to respect you as a man. You do your thing, and we’ll do ours.’ So that’s a non-issue for me.”

This is where it becomes a problem for the Raiders: “You do your thing and we’ll do ours.” If Lynch is going to do his own thing, at least let people know why, so others don’t have to try and awkwardly spell it out.

Worse yet, the “why” offered by Lynch doesn’t appear to be accurate. Not only have people been digging up photos of Lynch standing for the anthem, sources who overlapped the entirety of the running back’s career with either the Buffalo Bills or Seattle Seahawks told Yahoo Sports they couldn’t recall Lynch ever sitting for a national anthem. Collectively, the sources spanned all nine years of Lynch’s NFL career. And they couldn’t remember seeing him do it even once.

At the very least, it makes Del Rio’s explanation seem like a stretch. But more important, it punctuates why this is bound to be exhausting because odds are that Lynch will now become a constant anthem focus and may never say why he’s sitting. If he continues to sit, people will ask why. If he stands for the next anthem, people will ask why. It’s a thing now.

Already, people are suggesting he’s showing support for Kaepernick, who is currently a free agent and constant topic of speculation that he’s being blackballed by the league for his views. In reality, we don’t know that Lynch is supporting Kaepernick. We don’t know if this is Lynch taking a personal stance. Indeed, we don’t even know if this is even political or social in the first place. After all, Lynch’s personality is hard to pin down. He goes by the beat of his own drummer, doing and saying what he pleases – when he pleases. Lynch could come out a week from now and say he was doing it for any number of personal reasons and almost any of them could be conceivable.

If Lynch is protesting – and again, we can’t be certain he is – it’s worth knowing the reason behind the protest. That’s the upside of the NFL anthem debate. While it angers a portion of the fan base, at least there’s a worthwhile conversation out of it. Certainly, that conversation isn’t always comfortable (especially for the NFL), but at least it can be useful and instructive for people who don’t live the same experiences.

This isn’t just a football conversation. It’s not just Marshawn being Marshawn, or a mind-numbing “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” moment. If this is a protest, Lynch is connected to his community and has a worthwhile voice. In this one instance, he should use it for himself.