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Penn State Football: Michael Robinson & The Zen of Being MRob

by on February 25, 2018 11:45 PM

LOS ANGELES — It’s Sunday afternoon and Michael Robinson is riding shotgun along Pacific Avenue on the outskirts of L.A.

He’s on his way back to his West Coast digs, having been an integral part of two Penn State events in the last 24 hours.

Having just turned 35, the game-day fit and TV-star trim Robinson is over a dozen years removed from his golden 2005 Blue & White season.

That's when No. 12 passed and ran Penn State to an 11-1 record, a third-place ranking and a win in the Orange Bowl. Robinson is still as charming and accomplished as when he resurrected Penn State football that storybook season. Moreso, in fact.

He seemingly has it all:

A gig on the NFL Network on one coast and a beautiful soulmate and four kids, with meaningful foundation and youth work in his hometown of Richmond, on the other.

But truth be told, as much as he grinded with the Nittany Lions and then for nine years in the NFL — as a Pro Bowler, team captain for both the San Francisco 49ers and the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks — these days Robinson has never worked harder or accomplished more.

On being all he can be, as a man.

And giving all he can, to humankind.

"I live for it, man," he says, the ocean a few hundred yards away, over 2,600 miles away from home. "I tell people all the time what I'm doing is not by mistake and it's on purpose. I feel a special responsibility to the kids and the youth coming up after me.

"I'm not exactly sure how I've balanced it all in my life, except to say I have a mindset of service. Once you have that, everything pretty much falls into place. People want to follow you when they know you have their best interests in mind."

Call it The Zen of Being MRob.

It's a mature and introspective Michael these days. He is full of purpose, in almost all ways and striving for always. We had the chance to spend some time with this transformational athlete and community member — be the community the challenged areas of Richmond, his alma mater or the rarified air of the most popular sports league in America. And his goals and ways and means were the focus of our chat.

The Michael Robinson who you knew as an electrifying do-it-all Penn State football star is still at his core, but there are a lot more layers. And more depth. He's still a leader and great teammate, just in bigger ways. To that end, here's bit of what he had to say about the journey to this point and his current focus, with a baker's dozen of questions and answers:

You were just named honorary chair of FastStart, the Penn State Alumni Association's mentorship program. That's definitely in your wheelhouse.

Robinson: "Definitely. Being in that program, which is basically about mentorship, is what I've tried to structure my life around — helping young people. So when I saw this FastStart opportunity come up, I jumped at it. That Penn State thought enough of me to be the face of it was a tremendously humbling experience."

Who have been the two biggest mentors in your life, when you were growing up and now?

Robinson: "Growing up and now, my mom (Rita Ross) is my mentor. She's been the strongest figure in my life. That she was able to raise two boys (Michael has a brother, Anthony Ricks) in this world by herself and the strength that she exuded speaks volumes. We didn't have a lot growing up, but I never heard her complain or be upset by the situation. She just attacked every day and instilled that in us. We're contributing people to society, so that's huge."

Do you have a mentor now?

Robinson: "There are a few people who are my mentors. You wouldn't probably know many of them. I'm a very spiritually-minded person. A lot of the elders in my spiritual community mentor me. And when I say mentors, it's about being able to get through adversity, about being able to handle the challenges of life when they come to you. There's no one individual field in any field who I have been emulating, but my spiritual family has been big."

What's an average week for you like?

Robinson: "On Sunday I come out to Los Angeles to work for NFL Network. I usually get out here Sunday night from Richmond, Virginia. It's a long flight. Then I wake up Monday and meet with my media coach out here, Marc Watts. We watch film and work on getting better. Then at noon, I'll go into work and do my thing there.

"Tuesday is rinse and repeat. Wake up, handle some meetings early, then go to work. Then fly back into to Richmond. Wednesday, I go to two of the schools and check up on them, since they're part of our foundation. Then I go meditate for two hours after I get back.

"On Thursday, I have a radio show in the mornings for FOX sports radio. After that, I usually meet for a couple of hours with my foundation board, to make sure the curriculum and everything we're doing is right. Thursday nights I usually meet with my youth football board to make sure we are following best practices. I sit down with parents, so they have a full understanding of what they're getting their kids into.

"Friday is my date day with my wife (Shameka). After we both take the kids (Raylin, Burtin, Mikayla and Ruby) to school, I take her out to breakfast. Love her, be with her, that's my queen. The whole day, for the most part, is devoted to her. We run errands, we just be around each other. We pick up the kids and spend a lot of time together.

"Saturday is youth football league day for me in the spring. We run the largest spring youth football league in the state of Virginia. We have about 70 games each Saturday at about eight locations throughout Virginia. Then Sunday, we do family meditation with my wife and kids, where we get together and I minister some things to them, and then we group meditate and enjoy each other. Then I hop back on a plane, and we rinse and repeat."

What's it like working at the NFL Network?

Robinson: "It's cool. It's like creating another locker room. One of my teammates now is Michael Irvin; he talks about that all the time and about how the NFL Network saved him. There are not many people walking around on this earth who have played NFL football on a high level. We have unique experiences, we have unique issues. To be able to go into a place like the NFL Network with guys who have shared your experiences, have shared some of the issues you are encountering, and you can bounce things off of them, it really helps you. It helps you overcome a lot of adversity."

What are your thoughts on Penn State football these days?

Robinson: (laughs) "Penn State football is kicking it these days. I'll be totally frank: I wasn't always into Coach (James) Franklin when he first got there. But he's changed my mind, he's changed the culture at Penn State. He has these kids believing that not only can they win on the football field, but they can win in life. And that's what's most important. He cares.

"It reminds me of my old mentor, Coach (Joe) Paterno, and the amount of care he shows toward these players and they love him for it. The enthusiasm — you can't buy that."

Do you know any of the players now very well?

Robinson: "Not very well. Saquon (Barkley) and I have developed a unique relationship throughout the past couple of years. In 2016, I went up and spoke to the players before the Ohio State game. Ever since that day, Saquon and I have had a connection. That kid is so humble. To me, that's his best attribute — even more than his physical attributes. He believes he's one of the guys. He understands that his success is not from him, but from the other 10 guys on the field."

That's you. You've always been a leader-teammate. Why?

Robinson: "You can't be a true leader without serving. I don't care what religion you believe in, whatever the god of your religion is. There's going to be some story about serving. Serving mankind, serving people. I truly believe you cannot lead unless you serve, unless you are a teammate.

"For me, being in those teammate-type relationships, I want to make myself the best me I can be for my teammates. As I do talks around the country about being a good teammate and being a good leader, taking care of me kind of goes against the teammate mantra: 'I'm going to make sure that personally, I'm right.'

"I want to make sure my teammates can count on me. It's all part of being accountable.

"My personality is such that I have to have a challenge. That's a good and bad thing. It was a challenge early-on in my marriage. With my competitive nature I always had to have an opinion. Even Coach Paterno used say (Robinson does a highly-pitched Paterno impression), 'Mike, if this is what brings out the best in you, then you can hate me. You can hate me.'

"I was like, 'Coach, I don't hate you. I just want to play quarterback.' "

What if you had been a quarterback your entire Penn State career and then into the NFL?

Robinson: "I've thought about that. If I had been a quarterback my entire time at Penn State, there's no guarantee I would have played there in the NFL.

"I'll tell you one thing: My path at Penn State, playing the different positions and going through the things I did, was what I needed to go through to get me to a certain mindset. I've always been a strong-willed and strong-minded person. But I don't know if without the adversity I encountered at Penn State, I'm not sure I would be as mature as I am now.

"I don't know what I would have been if I had been an early-round pick, possibly at quarterback, possibly making millions more dollars. I didn't have financial literacy. What happened at Penn State, and what I went through, made me a better adult. I just didn't know it at the time."

You work with kids all the time. Are today's kids different?

Robinson: "Yeah, they're different. Not drastically different. But we have to understand their parents are different. My parents grew up in an age where there were homes with both parents, with feminine and masculine energy having influence on a young person. Also, I'm part of a generation where Facebook and social media were just starting as we were becoming adults.

"We come from a world where we identify with 'No, sir,' 'Yes, ma'am' and those kinds of things. These kids have a hard time handling adversity and being told no because — I think, it's my opinion — with social media it's easy to get a 'like.' It's easy to get instant gratification. It's easy to get the 'yes' they're looking for. In real life, you're told 'no' a lot more than you're told 'yes.' "

So, when are you writing a book?

Robinson: "It's coming. My wife and I are talking about it. I don't consider myself rich, by any means, but I understand that people think people in my position have some wealth. So the book we are thinking of is called, 'Rich and Woke.'

"People ask me why I live in Richmond, Virginia, instead of Los Angeles. They say, 'Your career would just take off.' My response is, 'There's so many young people in Richmond who are looking to me for motivation.' I have to be back in that area to make sure the resources are there for them. I feel like it's my duty.

"But even in the state of Virginia, I struggle with where to live. Where I live right now has all the resources and my kids are in great schools, but they go to school with maybe two people who look like them. My Excel 2 Excellence Foundation (click here for more info), the kids who I service, are on the other side of town. I feel weird about that. Why don't I live over there and make sure the entire community gets the resources I think these kids should get?

"I'm constantly fighting that battle, and that's what the book will be about. Are you woke? Do you understand the injustices? Do you understand the things that are going on in this world? Yet, you've worked hard personally to get to a certain state where you can enjoy some of those advantages. But how do you do that when you're trying to raise up the entire community? That's my struggle."

It seems like everyone thinks they knows Mike Robinson. Do they really? Why is that?

Robinson: "I think it's because I've tried to merge who I truly am with what I want my image to be. It's not like a light switch that you can turn on and off. The character that I wanted to be on TV, that character I wanted kids to look up to, the character I wanted people to admire — I had to become that.

"So I think when you encounter me, I think you encounter a genuine and authentic person. What you see is what you get, I think that connects with a lot of people. I always talk about speaking to your third ear. It's hearing something that resonates regardless of your background, regardless of your race or religion. You're speaking to a truth. There's a core honesty there, and I try to speak to that."

As you juggle everything, is there an area where you won't cut back, where you won't compromise?

Robinson: "I know this is going to sound weak and selfish, but I won't compromise on my self-time, whether it's my meditations in the mornings or the evenings.

"I equate it to football practice: People always want to hurry up and go to 11-on-11 drills, but you get better from individual drills. Those 15 to 20 minutes where you're just throwing passes over and over. Or you're working on footwork, over and over. That's where you master the sport.

"All of these distractions that life puts upon us, the most work gets done when you're by yourself, when you have introspection about what's going on inside of you."

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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