Marshawn Lynch calls him “Papa.” Always has. But the man is not the father of the Seattle Seahawks’ running back.
Lynch’s father is Maurice Sapp, who has been in and out of prison since Lynch was a child and is serving a 24-year sentence for burglary. But Lynch always had his Papa — Leron Lynch, 73, who is Lynch’s maternal grandfather.
“He would call me Papa, and I took him to practice, and I would buy cleats and did everything,” Lynch’s grandfather told USA TODAY Sports during an interview at his home. “Anytime he needed anything, at school or anything, he’d call me.”
Earlier this week, with the Super Bowl matchup between the Seahawks and New England Patriots drawing near, Papa thought Lynch needed one of Papa’s lemon cakes. He whipped up the confection and entrusted it to the USA TODAY Sports team to deliver to Lynch in Arizona at media day Tuesday.
When Lynch took the cake, he said with delight, “Oh, yeah. That’s the magic cake.”
It was a rare peek at the reclusive running back. In fact, moments earlier, Lynch’s only response to questions from the news media in an appearance that lasted less than five minutes was, “I’m here so I won’t get fined.”
Papa knows this scene all too well, and he had advice for Lynch. About his refusal to talk to the news media, which led the NFL to fine him $100,000. And about his crotch-grabbing touchdown celebrations, which led the NFL to fine Lynch $20,000.
“He’d rather pay the money than talk,” Papa said. “Shoot, he’s grabbing his crotch. He just does this stuff.
“When he comes home after the season is over, when I go over there and catch him one-on-one, then I’m going to talk to him about a lot of things.”
But Papa gave a sneak preview of that conversation and shared insight about his grandson.
‘KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT’
At times, Papa said, he has been perplexed by Lynch’s unwillingness to address the news media. But he said he thinks it might stem from an incident at Oakland Technical High School during Lynch’s freshman year when he got tangled up with an opposing player.
“The guy jumped all on (Lynch) and beat him in the face,” Papa said. “Then he got up, and he said, ‘Man, you guys sure are dirty.’
“So I went down on the field, and he was sitting with his helmet off, (and) I put my hand on his shoulder. And I said, ‘Look, let me tell you something. I don’t ever want to hear you say nothing during a game. All I want you to do when you’re back hit the ground, just jump up. Any means you can, your knees, your elbows, your arms, whatever. Just keep your mouth shut and get them off of you, get up. Soon as they tackle you, you come right back up.’ ”
Papa said he thinks the keep-your-mouth-shut speech and Lynch’s aversion to star treatment by the news media have led to his silence.
“He don’t want to look at himself as no star. I doubt if any of us in the family have an autograph picture of him,” he said. “He won’t give us an autograph picture. He don’t want us to look at him as no star. He wants us to know him as ‘Little Marshawn.'”
Although Papa expressed frustration with Lynch not talking, he also voiced displeasure with the news media.
‘I KNOW HE’LL QUIT’
In high school, Lynch once took off his pads during practice, Papa said. And Lynch did the same thing when he was at California. Now Papa is afraid Lynch, who is a free agent after this season, might take off his pads and walk away for good if the news media keeps trying to interview Lynch.
“I know he’ll quit,” Papa said. “If everybody keeps standing in his face like that and makes him talk, he’ll walk away. He loves to play the game, but he’ll walk away. I know he will.
“I don’t even know why people would want to interview him. If he doesn’t talk, he’s just going to give you one word. So who would want to interview somebody that’s not going to talk. So I don’t know why people don’t just back off. … The more they want him to talk, the less he’s going to want to talk.
“He don’t like all them lights and cameras in his face. He never did. Even in high school. He would make five touchdowns in a game. They would come up to him with the microphones and stuff. But he just don’t want to take no glory for this stuff. I used to tell him all the time, ‘There’s going to come a time when you’ve got to leave all your friends. You’re up here; you’re above them.’ And he would tell me, ‘Ah, Papa, I ain’t up there. I’m just a team player.’
“He used to tell me that all the time, that he was a team player. He says, ‘Watch me on the field. I’ll do all my talking on the field.'”
SOURCE: Josh Peter
USA TODAY Sports