Sitting alone with both elbows on the table and hands folded, Robert Turbin waited.
The Seattle Seahawks’ backup running back was a few feet away from cameramen standing on chairs. Reporters were pressed against each other, crammed into a back corner around a table that had a simply printed sign on it: “Marshawn Lynch.”
On the third floor of the team’s Super Bowl hotel in Jersey City, N.J., the Seahawks were in the midst of another day with the media leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII. Lynch was the silent white whale. Turbin was just silent, although he had a story worth talking about. One filled with misery, drugs and death. A tale that makes the average man cower.
That’s not how he would tell it, of course. Turbin turned it more into a tale of learning. He explained it as a success story, one that received a large push when the Seahawks drafted him in the fourth round in late April two years ago.
Utah State lost its bowl game on Dec. 17, 2012, which gave Turbin time to head home to Fremont, Calif. Over the week or so he spent in his hometown, Turbin was able to spend one full day with his brother, Lonnie.
Lonnie was often difficult to track down. He was addicted to heroin, which contributed to his fragmented communication with Robert.
But, over that break, they hung out. This pleased Robert, who was pushed early by Lonnie to do sit-ups, push-ups and curls. Robert’s massive biceps are a result of yanking himself upward for two decades. When he was small — he’s 5-foot-10, 222 muscular pounds today — Robert cleared the clothes off a rod in the closet so he could do pull-ups.
That late-December visit was the last time the brothers spoke or saw each other. Robert left to train at what was then called Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. He was preparing for the NFL combine.
Shortly before the combine, he received the kind of news that is typically delivered by unexpected 3 a.m. phone calls. Robert’s cousin informed him Lonnie had been shot and killed in Oakland. He was 35.
“I didn’t want to believe it at first,” Robert said.
Lonnie’s death was part of a run of difficulty. Robert’s mother, Lovie Mae Jones, was a drug addict who was not around. The first time Robert remembers seeing her, he was about 4 or 5 years old. Over time, his father, Ronald Turbin, explained to young Robert why his mother was not there, and who she was.
“Probably was difficult for him, like it would be for any parent,” Robert said. “He probably had an ideal time not only to tell me, but to tell me the details. There’s an appropriate age for that. Can’t be 7 years old and tell me all these details. I probably wouldn’t understand. Just waited for the right time.
“Obviously, as I got older I started to have questions. The older I got, the smarter I got; the more questions I had. I started to see a lot more things. He dealt with it as good as any father could.”
Robert’s sister, Trina, died of multiple sclerosis at age 21. His other sister, Tiffany, 33, was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy. She is unable to speak and paralyzed from the neck down. He cared for her while growing up.
Robert, 24, sounds much older when discussing these circumstances. He had hoped to bring Lonnie with him to wherever he was drafted. He never had the opportunity.
But he was able to pull his half-brother, Terry Jones, up from Oakland to be with him now. Jones played basketball last season at Bellevue College. Relaying lessons to him is easy for Robert because he was the same age so recently.
When doing so, he tries to push three base lessons: be the same every day, keep your edge and remember your values.
Turbin doesn’t wonder much about why such issues have latched on to his family members and not him. At times, he’s curious why he was just able to have a life that put him on the field in the Super Bowl instead of it shifting to a more challenged existence. He’s been able to manufacture his mournful surroundings into his drive.
“Try to find a way it may be able to benefit you or inspire you,” Turbin said of the sorrow. “You can use that in your motivation more than you can use it to hold you back.”
Which is what he’s done.
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