Like every young and gifted athlete from every inner city on earth, Marshawn Lynch was certain to confront the confluence of past and future, where personal experiences meet abstract hope.
On one side is the lifestyle the former Oakland Tech and Cal star knows from the streets on which he grew up, where trouble threatens potential and sometimes kills it.
On the other side is the life he could have as an NFL running back, allowing him to follow his social conscience, open his heart and shine a light in dark places.
It's a complex predicament, unforgiving and capable of taking down spectacular talent. Gary Payton and Jason Kidd can choose one path, while Hook Mitchell and Isaiah Rider take the other. Lynch has spent his adulthood straddling the intersection, running sometimes in the right and other times in the wrong.
The Seattle Seahawks running back realizes he's a symbol of influence, certainly to youth, and doesn't want to fumble away his opportunity. He's making a valiant effort.
Lynch, 25, wants to repaint the image that followed him from Berkeley, where he was a wild child with charm, to Buffalo, where in the wee hours he drove his SUV into a pedestrian and sped off, to Los Angeles, where he was arrested for gun possession, and back to Buffalo, where last summer the then-Bills running back was accused of taking $20 from a woman he met at a TGI Friday's.
He's still on probation from the gun charge.
So Lynch is rededicating himself to his career and all the communal things it can buy. He concedes being traded from Buffalo (which drafted him in the first round in 2007) to Seattle last October provides a natural restart.
"At first, it was mixed emotions," he says now, nine months later. "Then, when I got off the plane, it was like, whew."
He exhales and rolls his shoulders, as if shrugging off a burden. "It gave me a chance to rebuild myself. I feel it was a blessing."
The new start as a football player is evident, the new attitude as a man refreshing.
The new and improved Marshawn was visible upon putting on a Seahawks uniform, notably on his incredible 67-yard scoring ramble against New Orleans in the NFC Wild Card game. Lynch on that play broke eight tackles, stepping through some defenders and flicking away others. The run belongs in any discussion of the 10 best in NFL history.
But there never has been a question about Marshawn's running. The question, almost always, was about his conduct in society.
He always was a man on the field, in full gear, but could he become one off it?
That's the question Lynch is attempting to answer. And he's doing it with an attitude that's downright refreshing.
He still has his beloved braids, but on this day, at a gorgeous waterfront restaurant in San Francisco, they dangle above a silver-gray Brooks Brothers suit, which covers a black dress shirt and silver tie. Lynch and his cousin, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson, are unveiling their Fam 1st Family Foundation for underprivileged youth.
"We've been able to touch kids at certain times," Lynch says. "Like Thanksgiving, giving away turkeys, and Christmas, giving away toys, and at our summer camp.
"But this is about a youth center where we can touch 'em every day, all year round. And not just kids, but families, too. It's like Josh always says, 'We want to show kids in Oakland that there's more than what's between the 580 and the 880.' There's a lot more beyond that, but sometimes you can't see it."
The former Tech teammates know of what they speak. They are proof that developing one's athletic gifts can open doors. It sent them to college and to the NFL, gave them a platform for the center they plan to open in 2013.
"We talk a lot, and we realize what we have and how easy we can lose it," says Johnson, drafted by the Bucs in 2008. "We're aware of how people see us. We didn't realize the influence we had. We want to come back to Oakland and be better. And help make it better."
Johnson is long and rangy. Lynch is built like a block of muscle. Johnson is the "levelheaded" one, Lynch the "impulsive" one. But they complement each other.
Johnson, though a month younger, is a positive influence on his cousin, and Lynch seeks to become that for youngsters all over the country.
He recognizes the right path. Now he has to keep both feet on it. And keep running.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.