Princeton Student Authors Address Controversial Op-Ed On Marshawn Lynch

The article criticized the selection process in which the NFL star and philanthropist was selected as a speaker at a school event for graduating seniors.

Seniors at Princeton University who wrote a controversial opinion piece concerning Marshawn Lynch speaking at an upcoming event for the school’s graduating class claim their message has been widely “misconstrued.”

The opinion piece, published last week in student newspaper The Daily Princetonian, charged that many students were “disappointed” that Lynch, an NFL star, community advocate and philanthropist, was selected to speak at Class Day, an event that takes place one day before the school’s commencement in June and is organized by members of the senior class.

The authors of the article — whose names have since been removed due to “credible safety concerns,” the newspaper stated — wrote that the reason for their disappointment was “mainly because we did not feel included in the process by which this speaker was nominated and finally selected.”

Marshawn Lynch seen at a preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 17, 2019
Marshawn Lynch seen at a preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at Aloha Stadium on Aug. 17, 2019, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The senior authors told The Washington Post in an article published Wednesday that they received a lot of backlash for the opinion piece, which they said was “misconstrued.”

“As students of this university we feel that we have the right to critique the selection process without being labeled as ‘classist’ or ‘racist,’” they said in an emailed statement to the Post. 

The students also emphasized to the publication that they were “not disappointed by [Lynch] as a speaker, we just felt excluded from the process in which he was selected.”

In the opinion piece, the authors noted Lynch’s “impressive” NFL career and his philanthropic efforts, but said the “set of criteria” for nominees should be clearly defined to the graduating class. 

The authors went on to name past speakers Princeton alum actor Ellie Kemper and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) as examples of people who “either share a connection with the graduation class as Princeton alumni or are widely regarded as exceptional communicators.”

“In the selection of Marshawn Lynch, however, it is not evident what the set of criteria for nomination are,” the authors later added. 

The seniors later noted that upon researching Lynch they came across articles that discussed his “reticence with the media and his terse responses at press conferences.”

They highlighted instances in which Lynch had been fined for not speaking to reporters after games.

“During the 2015 Super Bowl Media Day, Lynch famously responded to multiple questions with variants of ‘I’m just here so I won’t get fined,’” the opinion piece read. “With no other frame of reference, such reports caused confusion over the set of criteria that led to his nomination.”

In a press release announcing Lynch as the Class Day speaker last week, the Class Day co-chairs celebrated his community work, including the youth-focused Fam 1st Family Foundation he co-founded in Oakland, California, and his work on the Phones for the Homeless initiative, which aims to aid people experiencing homelessness in the Oakland and Seattle areas. 

“Mr. Lynch’s career on and off the field touches on so many of our varied Princeton experiences and reflections; he aptly embodies [Princeton’s] informal motto, ‘In the nation’s service and the service of humanity,’” the press release said.

In December, Lynch, 33, came out of retirement to return to the Seattle Seahawks for the remainder of the most recent NFL season amid player injuries.

In a letter recently sent to Princeton’s graduating class, the Class Day co-chairs pointed to “important logistical challenges” in response to criticism that the selection process should include an opportunity for all seniors to give feedback on the speaker. 

“Unfortunately, the [opinion piece] shifted the conversation away from the celebration of the perspective that Mr. Lynch will bring to Class Day, and towards a troubling implication as to the concept of ‘worthiness’ in addressing our class,” the letter read, according to the Post.

The co-chairs later added that “inclusion, authenticity, service, and integrity do not have one look, come from one place, or occupy a single profession.”