Marshawn Lynch absolutely refuses to code switch. His candor, regardless of the audience, has yielded unforgettable quotations — “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”; “Take care of your chicken, take care of your mental” — that have marked him as a sage of sorts, somebody who is sought out in his retirement by current players in need of mentoring and by brands hoping to make an impression.
A 12-year N.F.L. veteran who last played in 2019 and an in-demand pitchman, Lynch was a founder of Beast Mode Marketing, which represents players like running back Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers and advises college athletes on name, image and likeness opportunities. In October 2021, Lynch became the N.F.L. Players Association’s first chief brand ambassador, providing his perspective on financial literacy and entrepreneurship for current and former players.
In a videoconference call in December, Lynch discussed that role, how he learned to manage money in the N.F.L. and the humility it takes for players to ask for help with their finances.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.
What was intriguing to you about this opportunity?
It was kind of a mutual thing. I’ve had conversations with people from the N.F.L. and the N.F.L.P.A. since I was a player, and it came down to me getting comfortable with putting myself out there. I had a string of events with current and retired players, and the turnout was pretty good, so I was like, “Why not just make it official?”
How is the role different from simply giving your teammates advice?
I was giving my teammates advice from a player’s perspective. Since I’ve stepped away from the game, I’ve gotten involved in [expletive] that a lot of these [expletive] want to get into, so now it’s like: This is the game I was giving you as a player, but now that I’ve stepped out into business, some acting, and a little apparel, a production company, a marketing company, or a barbershop.
Did anyone look out for you in the same way, and is that part of why you wanted to do this?
When I got drafted to Buffalo in 2007, I was there with a lot of guys who were on their second or third contract. They understood that this is a business and you have to represent yourself as one. I’m looking at them like, “The [expletive] you mean, ‘This is a business?’” Then when I got to Seattle, I was like: “This is what they meant.” What you put into it is what you get out, all the way down to taking notes in meetings. It prepared me for when I was done, so I’m able to run the businesses I’m running now.
Can you talk about the specific work you’ve done so far for the N.F.L.P.A., or what you’ll be doing in the future?
I think our first program will be for the Pro Bowl. As far as players reaching out, that’s just about tapping in and talking about whatever. We’ve been getting some of the players on our marketing team up to speed on how to rock with being players and businessmen.
Is there an initiative you’d like to collaborate with the N.F.L.P.A. on?
Being able to choose which companies you would like to work with, without necessarily being an ambassador for the company. I had fun doing the Skittles commercials, but they run for a couple months and then they wash their hands of them. If I had known about the different avenues, I would’ve tapped into something that would’ve given me longevity.
I’d like to see the N.F.L.P.A. have a tighter relationship with brands so players can pick and choose. That way, if the N.F.L. doesn’t work out for you, then you have those companies you like that the N.F.L.P.A. has a relationship with to help you make the transition.
It’s always disappointing to hear about players going broke, but we don’t hear as much about the guidance. I remember Tyler Lockett talking about how you schooled him on 401(k)s.
But that came from him responding to people saying, “Oh, he’s a bad dude,” and then him saying, “People can say whatever they want about him, but he sat me down and gave me some game about my 401(k).” I would make all rookies learn that. You see us doing this, so why aren’t you doing it as well? Don’t be oblivious to the [expletive] that’s happening in front of you. When I was in Buffalo, they were on my head about the same thing: “You’re going to do this, even if you don’t want to.”
Have you ever given financial advice to anyone who might be older or played in the league longer?
There was a point in time where, if you hit me up and we’d kicked it, I wouldn’t try to figure out what was wrong with your situation. All I could do was ask: “What can we do and what are you doing in order to make this situation change?” I judge no man because I don’t know their situation.
But for them to hit my phone and ask me for advice, they’re humbling themselves — because it’s hard for a man to call another and ask him for advice on things of that nature. If you’ve hit my phone, then there’s a respect between you and I, and we’re going to put something together to get you out of that jam.
How should players value themselves in a league where many of them have no power because there’s a hierarchy in the league and in locker rooms?
I’ll never tell an individual how they should feel based on their accomplishments. Because regardless of if you’re the No. 1 man on the roster or the 53rd, you made that roster. Now, what I will say is that the way you feel versus the way you live and spend your money is a little different.
I remember my first trip with my OGs. I was a rookie and they were designer down: Louis, Gucci, Fendi, Prada. I’m out there in some Artful Dodger, LRG and Evisus with the Js — hood classics, you feel me? They’re telling me I’ve got to step my game up, so I’m looking at the prices of Gucci shoes and they’re $500, $600, $1,000. I’m like: “Hell nah! Where’s the store with the Js?” They used to laugh at me, but I remember the first time I bought a pair of Gucci shoes for $550. I kept thinking: “I’m fixing to be broke after this.” I’d never spent money like that.
Mind you, when I first got my check, I knew nothing about money or taxes. And yeah, they try to teach you in school, but that’s basically taking a goddamn baby and putting him in a university. Plus, there wasn’t anybody who spoke my language to break it down for me until I got to Buffalo. I was like, “Who is FICA?!” I didn’t know my contract was going to be broken up over a period of time and the taxes were going to run my pockets. So when I got to my third year, I started understanding that it’s not bad to go spend a couple of dollars. There’s a way to set up your finances to make sure you stay on top of all this.
A lot of players have misspoken on Covid-19, racism and other social issues in interviews. How would you advise them about staying informed or speaking on topics they might not necessarily be educated about?
Turn the tables. If somebody asked me some [expletive] that I was not informed about, I’m going to ask them to inform me before I make any kind of statement. Most of the time, if you’re being asked something that you’re not informed about, it’s going to make you feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel that way, then it’s time to use your wittys to get up out that siti, that situation, you feel me? Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s not something I feel comfortable talking about.”