By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Brandon Marshall is not Batman. Take a second to re-evaluate everything you thought you already knew.
No, he’s actually even more antihero than the Dark Knight. Where the latter is the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now, Marshall is far less than ideal as a team leader for the Chicago Bears, but he’s the one they got. And at this point in a 3-4 season on the brink of full-blown dumpster fire, why not let him be?
Perhaps the only thing saving Marshall from being Persona Non Grata No. 1 in this town is Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who is the city’s most polarizing figure and would have to run for mayor or governor to be only loathed instead of despised by so many. The palpable hate that follows Cutler has allowed a diva wide receiver to metamorphosize from a wild card to a better-dressed, more-philosophical wild card without turning many heads.
For the most part, Marshall has been a model citizen and player since coming to Chicago with many red flags. He has built up the respect of his teammates, become a league spokesperson for mental health awareness — a diagnoses of which probably saved Marshall’s football career — and has gone from suspended domestic abuser to a one-time go-to for Roger Goodell to try to solve the league’s domestic violence problem.
Not that Marshall hasn’t tried to test the boundaries. Fans and media have been critical of his choice to fly weekly to New York to appear on Showtime’s Inside the NFL, suggesting it shows he isn’t 100 percent committed to his Chicago responsibilities. So far there has been no sign of the gig affecting his play, and if anything, his work as a talking head has proved valuable to many important discussions that go beyond Xs and Os.
But the press conference he held a month ago regarding his off-the-field issues, while maybe well-intentioned from a guy feeling walls of unjustified negativity closing in around him, was a disaster. It only served to raised more questions about Marshall than answer them.
Then came the aftermath of Sunday’s embarrassing loss to Marshall’s former team, the Miami Dolphins, keeping the Bears winless at home and looking lost midway through a season that had higher expectations than a 3-4 record. Marshall reportedly was very vocal in the locker room immediately after the game, taking teammates to task for a collective failed effort. On camera, Marshall was a bit less emotional, but his frustration was no less evident.
But where some see Sunday afternoon as another curious case of Brandon Marshall, maybe stepping back and letting an unconventional leader motivate his teammates could be productive in a season that’s about as out of answers as one can be. People might question if Cutler cares (which is a dumb argument for another time), but there’s no doubt the passion that Marshall has for winning. Yet there’s so much hesitation to let one of the game’s best pass catchers be a vocal leader on a sinking team.
It’s strange. When Peyton Manning yells at teammates or Aaron Rodgers speaks his mind, it’s called leadership. If “safer” Bears like Matt Forte or Roberto Garza went off in the locker room, the narrative would likely be one of leadership. But when we already have established a guy as sketchy — your Marshalls, your Cutlers — then they’re loose cannons. Go back to writing in your notebook, Brandon, you weirdo athlete who writes things.
Who’s to say the Bears don’t respond to Marshall? It’s not as if we’ve seen motivation coming from anywhere else on the team, especially not coach Marc Trestman, who for all the mad scientist praise he gets also keeps a Kumbaya locker room environment that might not lend itself well to the current situation.
Who’s to say a diva wideout can’t speak for a team and tell everyone to look in a mirror (including himself)? It seems like the reflex is to defer leadership stereotypes to a quarterback or square-headed linebacker. Yet we’ve learned that everything we expected about the Bears this season has been largely wrong.
Telling Marshall to pipe down might be wrong, too. Hey, he might not be everyone’s best choice for spokesperson, but at least he’s speaking. For now, he’s the leader the team has, and not much else can get worse.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.