CHICAGO — Former Chicago Bear Charles “Peanut” Tillman has Chicago kids on his mind this week even as his new team, the Carolina Panthers, prepare for the playoffs without him.
The former Bears cornerback, who revived his career in North Carolina this year only to have the season cut short by a knee injury, is raffling off tickets to the Panthers' Sunday showdown with the Seahawks (and cash to travel from Chicago) to raise money for his charity, and share his inspiring personal story with Chicago kids growing up amid gun violence.
Proceeds from the raffle, which ends Thursday, aims to raise money for Tillman’s charity, and also to distribute copies of the cornerback’s kid-friendly biography, “The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman” — a collection of life lessons the two-time Pro Bowler learned before was a famous athlete as told to former Bears beat writer turned author Sean Jensen — to Chicago kids.
"My family has enjoyed making new friends in Charlotte, but our hearts are heavy — given all that’s happening — for kids in Chicago,” Tillman said Tuesday, a day before he is set to undergo knee surgery.
When I talked to Tillman, who was born on the South Side, about his book in November, the former Bear said reading news stories about all the shooting in Chicago, and kids caught in the crossfire, really ticked him off.
“I get so mad at reading there were 75 shootings over a weekend. It’s so bad you get numb to it. It’s like, ‘Last week there were 100 [shootings], this is just 75.' Maybe that’s a good thing. … It’s a war zone. There’s a war out there. Kids are scared,” Tillman said back then.
“Come on, man. That’s not the Chicago I remember. It’s a beautiful city. We’ve got great culture. We’ve got great people.”
Jensen, Tillman’s co-author, said he’s working to partner with Chicago charities to help get the illustrated biography in the hands of kids who live in struggling parts of town.
Tillman’s “Middle School Rules” pulls from the NFL star’s childhood to offer kids lessons on overcoming adversity, dealing with divorce, discrimination and death. One chapter that focuses on grieving is the story of Tillman’s uncle, Charlie, who was shot and killed in Chicago.
The former Bear said he hopes sharing his story — and the lessons he learned — during his own childhood might help Chicago kids overcome obstacles in their own life.
Ultimately, Tillman told me that comes down to his father’s best advice: “Think before you act.”
“That’s what I want kids to get out of this book,” Tillman said in November. “Make the right choice.”
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