Marshawn Lynch explains his ‘unmatchable’ love for Oakland, how he’s giving back

Marshawn Lynch explains his ‘unmatchable’ love for Oakland, how he’s giving back
Photo of Scott Ostler
Scott Ostler
Feb. 3, 2021
Updated: Feb. 3, 2021 9:19 p.m.
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Former Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, born and raised in Oakland, is working to improve the town he loves.
Former Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, born and raised in Oakland, is working to improve the town he loves.
Jae C. Hong / Associated Press 2018
Remember Marshawn Lynch’s wild sideline dance when he played for the Raiders in 2017?

Near the end of an easy win over the Jets at the Coliseum, “I’m Really From Oakland” blared over the PA system, and Lynch let his hair down, and up, dancing happily, dreadlocks flying.

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The reason I bring up the dance is because, as it turns out, that’s pretty much how Lynch does interviews.

During his 12-year NFL career, Lynch led the league in straight-arming the media. He seldom did interviews, and when hit with stiff fines for not talking, he turned his media silence into a sideshow of its own.

Now I see what we were missing all those years.

During a recent one-on-one Zoom interview, Lynch bopped around nonstop, waving his arms, flinging his dreads, talking about his city, his town.

Who says Lynch doesn’t open up to the media?

For openers: “Hey, how you doin’, chief? All right, big dog, what’s goin’ on?”

Mostly he talked about his hometown, which is at the heart of the many business and cultural ventures on his plate in his retirement from football.

Lynch could serve as the poster dude for athletes giving back to their community.

“That love that I have for my city is just, I just feel it’s unmatchable,” said Lynch, who went to Oakland Tech and Cal. “Anytime I have a opportunity to do something that will shed some light on my city, rather than the negative aspect that we get, I try to shine a lot on that end as often as I can.”

The trucks of Lynch’s Fam1st Family Foundation are familiar sights at Oakland schools, dropping off loads of backpacks and school supplies. His Beast Mode apparel store in the heart of town is part of his real-estate and business efforts to boost Oakland. Kids know they can drop by the Beast Mode store for a free haircut if they show a good report card. Lynch touted his involvement in the Pro Teen Awards, which grants $1,500 scholarships to 20 high school football players submitting the most impressive videos, in partnership with Subway.

Lynch is part owner of the presently dormant Oakland Panthers indoor football team. He has attended City Hall meetings to plead for the city to do whatever it can to keep the A’s. He has hosted block parties and group bike rides, and food giveaways at his soul food restaurant, Rob Ben’s.

He bought that place in 2017 when the longtime owner, Cassie Nickelson, retired. And like all of Lynch’s business deals, it was more than a business deal.

“Miss Cassie, she had a restaurant out of a garage-type space, and she would give kids free hamburgers and fries on their birthday,” Lynch said. “And I got word of that and I went there on my seventh birthday and she gave me a hamburger and fries, so she held true to her word.”

Lynch bought the restaurant and the building, renamed the place after a beloved older cousin who was fatally shot in Oakland in 2007, and put several family members to work keeping the local institution alive.

Where did that community spirit come from?

“My mom, for sure,” Lynch said, weaving and bobbing around the edges of the screen as he talked. He said his mother worked three jobs to support her four kids, and also looked out for other relatives.

“Like if I had a family member who was doing bad at the time, my mom would never turn a blind eye to ’em, regardless of whatever state they was in. ”

In high school, Marshawn’s pals were part of his family, and his mom was the event coordinator.

“Might be to the bowling alley, might be to the fair, she goin’ pile ’em in, we might be eight, nine, 10 deep in a car going to the fair, just to run around, ’cuz nobody got no money to do nothin’, but we was all together, we was having fun.”
Back then, Lynch said, he had an important support group.

“We had a lot of OGs who get down and do their thing,” Lynch said, “I’m not going to get into too much detail, but the thing was … they would tell you, ‘Hey, little blood, you ain’t goin’ be like this when you get older. You gonna do something different than what I’m doing.’”

Lynch said he convinced the street gamblers to bet on his high school team, rather than against it, then they cut him in on their winnings. That got him thinking he might have a rosy future in their lucrative business, but they had a better plan for him.

“But them constantly in your ear, they really mighta had the mind-set, ‘You could really do something differently than what we all doing, and be successful, without the heartache and headache of what we actually go through.’”

Maybe they knew they were mentoring a community treasure. Lynch got the picture. Instead of the easy way, he took a different route, and it led right back to the heart of The Town.

“You stay solid, big dog,” he said, then danced off the screen.