Failure to Act: Marshawn Lynch, Katy Perry, John Boehner, President Obama

Failure to Act: Marshawn Lynch, Katy Perry, John Boehner, President Obama

Be very clear, deciding to not act is a decision.

WASHINGTON, January 31 2015 —The Super Bowl is perhaps the world’s most significant television event. Ahead of the big game, the NFL holds media day, where players are required by the league to appear and answer questions.

Of course, the world must have the knowledge of the inside scoop, the unknown insights, and the never-before-revealed strategies that will be offered by the players.

Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks running back, sat at a table for the required five minutes and answered every media question with a variety of versions of “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

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On Thursday, at another media session, which would provide the possibility of more riveting disclosures, Lynch did offer a bit more, effectively telling the press that the only people that mattered were his family and that the press were free to make up anything they wanted about him. He kept track of the time and at the five-minute buzzer, he was gone.

The failure to act by Mr. Lynch is humorous and became “the story.” It is unclear if the league can impose a fine for his non-responsiveness. The Professional Football Writers of America have complained. The league declined comment.

Mostly, fear, money or power account for failures in taking action. Why won’t a spouse decide on carpet or tile for the floor? Why won’t a boss decide on which employee to promote? Will you marry me? Red sweater or blue sweater?

Mr. Lynch clearly was afraid of the press taking what he would say and spinning it.

Beyond the Super Bowl and in the real world, the failure to act can and does result in significant harms and losses. The law imposes a “duty” to act in many situations, and in others, society’s moral code would want to punish those who failed to act.

In the everyday world there are many examples of obligations for safety. People have a duty to act with reasonable care to prevent harm. Failure to do so can result in injuries and death, and the court system becomes the arbiter to determine responsibility and compensation if someone found to have had a duty failed and injuries or death resulted.

Too often, people fail to do needed things that would assure safety because they would have to spend money. A classic example is the car manufacturer that refused to spend $5.00 per unit to fix or install something that was otherwise dangerous.

  • A landowner must assure a huge hole on her property is roped off or covered so a passerby does not fall in.
  • A dog owner must restrain her dog to assure the dog does not bite others.
  • A driver must obey the rules of the road to avoid causing a collision.
  • Some states prescribe duties for safety.

There is no requirement anywhere for the “average” person to try to help someone drowning. Many states however have “Good Samaritan” laws that encourage action and protect against lawsuits in the event something goes wrong when an attempt to save fails. To encourage action, these laws allow people to try to rescue someone.

  • Common carriers, like railroads, are required in some states to rescue or defend a passenger.
  • Innkeepers in some states have a duty to rescue or defend a guest.
  • Some business owners have a duty to rescue or defend customers or clients.
  • Many people have investments. They use brokers. Others use fiduciaries.

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Tony Robbins, in his new bestselling book Money: Master the Game, excellently explains in great detail the advantages and disadvantages of the choices people make regarding who they use to make and manage their investments.

In this area, professional distinctions are of key importance. For example, brokers are not required to act in their clients’ best interests, nor are they required to put their clients’ interests before their own. Brokers don’t always act properly because of the money they would lose.

A fiduciary, on the other hand, has a legal obligation to act solely in his or her clients’ interests. Fiduciaries have a duty to avoid any conflicts of interest between themselves and their clients or between their clients. A fiduciary duty is the strictest duty of care recognized by the U.S. legal system.

Most states have obligations in some situations that are absolutely clear when it comes to safety. Parents, caretakers, doctors, school officials and others must report suspected child abuse, and sexual abuse.

Fear sometimes prevents these required reporters from making the reports. A physician has a duty to warn or protect if she reasonably believes her patient poses an imminent risk to himself or others.

On a bigger scale, the lines of responsibility are often hotly debated and contested. Elected officials notoriously do not act for an array of reasons, most of which can be boiled down to fear of alienating their base and jeopardizing their reelection possibilities.

Tiffany Germain wrote an article on October 7, 2014 titled Failing to Act, How Rick Scott’s Policies are Hurting Floridians.

She says that despite an improving economy, too many Florida families are struggling to make ends meet. She says Gov. Scott (R) acts for big business and corporate interests, and that he has failed to pursue policies that would create an economy that works for everyone. She claims his policies are “outside of the mainstream and have adverse consequences… especially for those within the state’s communities of color.”

Christiane Amanpour, at an annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner in late November, 2014, said that journalists have lost their lives, specifically mentioning James Foley, because “elected officials failed to act” in response to the Syrian conflict. Foley was beheaded by ISIS. Amanpour called them “the most unspeakably brutal, atrocious group that we’ve seen in decades.” She attributed the world’s inaction to the group’s rise. “We thought al Qaeda was bad; ISIS is the depth of depravity, and our journalists have paid with their lives.”

Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, attending the same dinner, said “There is a new war on journalists… these days, terrorists will kill a journalist not to stop the story, but to create one.”

Nine months before the dinner, Richard Cohen, a weekly political columnist for the Washington Post, said of President Obama’s asking for options before announcing a plan for Syria: “Washington’s dawdling has become the hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy. He can make all the speeches he wants, but his confusion and indecision is what other leaders notice and what history will remember. Now, so very late, he has asked for options. Here’s one: Do something!”

In England, last November, the Independent Police Complaints Commission launched investigations into three police forces because they failed for months to act on information about people who had purchased child abuse images over the Internet.

Numerous immigration groups, Democrats and others have chastised Speaker of the House John Boehner and Republicans for failing to bring an immigration bill to a vote. Fear of losing power?

Intuitively, we all know when it is wrong not to act. We understand when we should.

There is a difference between Mr. Lynch not acting and the world’s inactions in response to situations like those in Syria. The press, because both are news, will report on both. We either laugh or cry.

Singer Katy Perry, the highlight performer scheduled for halftime at the Super Bowl, at this past Thursday’s media day was asked which player she has her eye on. She said: “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”

It’s “fourth and one” – should we go for it?


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order


Mr. Samakow’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, El Textarudo, has become nationally recognized. Please visit the website and “like” the concept on the Facebook page

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