Investigators still don’t know why Najai Turpin, a 23-year-old boxer and competitor on NBC’s The Contender, shot himself on Monday in a car parked outside the Philadelphia gym where he trained. But the upcoming reality series’ producers are sure it’s not the show’s fault. ”This unfortunate occurrence seems to have nothing to do with boxing but other personal issues that we really don’t know much about,” said Sylvester Stallone, who produces and co-hosts The Contender, in a conference call to reporters on Thursday.
Producer Mark Burnett reiterated his statement earlier in the week that the series, which debuts March 7, won’t be reedited because of Turpin’s death. ”He’s in multiple episodes,” Burnett told reporters. ”There will be a tribute to him in the series. It’s not something we’re going to ignore. It’s also something we’re not going to change.”
Like Stallone’s own fictional Rocky Balboa, Turpin came from a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia. According to the bio posted on the show’s website, Turpin supported his younger siblings and his toddler daughter by holding down multiple jobs, but he saw boxing, and especially The Contender, as the best way to support his family. ”I loved this man,” Stallone said. ”I loved what he stood for. He was incredibly brave. When he was with his child, you saw the child in him come out.”
In the days since Turpin’s death, his Contender Web page has added memorial tributes from Stallone, co-host Sugar Ray Leonard, and Burnett, who wrote that NBC will establish a trust fund, to which viewers may donate, to support Turpin’s family.