Up Next

As Told To

Retired NFL player Charles Tillman feels people need to start loving each other

Chicago native ‘emotionally and mentally’ exhausted from recent shootings

The deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, by police officers have completely drained newly retired cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

He’s tired of lives being taken by police officers and he’s tired of police officers being killed. Five officers were killed and seven others were wounded in the Dallas sniper shooting in early July. Another three were slain in Baton Rouge on June 17. Tillman said he is now “emotionally and mentally exhausted.”

In another incident in North Miami, Florida, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist, was shot while attending to an autistic patient. Video footage of the incident shows Kinsey lying in the street with his hands up. He was still shot, then handcuffed.

With this in mind, Tillman takes a moment to reflect on some of the things his mother told him.

I was in the sixth grade, and we were at a friend’s house. I was in Fort Ord, California, with five or six black kids, and we’re outside on the porch. Her neighbor in the duplex came outside and said something against us, and I think I was like, ‘Man, shut up.’ I didn’t threaten them, I just told them to shut up. Come to find out five to 10 minutes later, two police cars and a paddy wagon pulls up, and everyone’s like, ‘Get down on the ground! Get on your knees and put your hands up above your head!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell did we do?’ We’re just kind of hanging out with our friend. Through that, they ask us several questions, ‘What gang are you in?’ And you’re like, ‘I’m not in a gang? My dad is in the military, why would I be in a gang?’

They told us they were calling our parents and that our parents were going to come pick us up, and I actually got excited. I’m thinking, ‘Sweet, I didn’t do anything wrong, my mom is about to curse ya’ll out.’ They finally let us go after they detained us for like an hour or two. Basically, the cops lied, they just detained us for no apparent reason and lied about calling our parents before we could be released.

I remember my mom saying, ‘There comes a point in time where you’re going to get picked on or you’re going to get profiled because you look a certain kind of way. The best thing you can do is just listen to what the officer says, make sure you get a badge number, and then you can come tell me and we can deal with it the way we see fit. But you’re never going to win that situation in that moment with that police officer, so you shouldn’t even fight it. Just comply, and you’ll win in a courtroom.’ That was something that my mom told me.

I’m sad. It truly is sad to see where we are in a law enforcement standpoint, but yet also, from a citizens’ standpoint. I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted from watching black people get killed and police officers get killed. It sucks for both sides. The officer shoots this black individual, and his life is over, and vice versa. Nobody ever wins. I think there’s so much hate in the world right now; it’s like there’s no humanity left.

I think sometimes what happens, and this is just my opinion, you get certain officers who grow up a certain kind of way, and they’re not around black individuals. And the first time they actually make contact or they’re around African-Americans, it’s … for something and it’s bad. And it’s just kind of their first experience around black people, and it’s negative. Maybe somewhere along the line they think, ‘Wow, this is how black people are.’ I don’t know, I hope I’m wrong. I hope my theory is wrong. What we as black people need to understand is that all cops aren’t bad. I have a ton of friends who are cops, and they are white, and they’re some of the best people I know. Black people, white people, we all need to be smart enough to know, I had an experience with this person. Not the rest of the white race or not the rest of the black race. That’s kind of what I want people to know is to have that common sense.

It’s the same thing when an NFL player makes a mistake, whether it’s domestic violence, DUI, smoking marijuana or drug charges. That paints a bad picture on the rest of the good guys in the NFL, and what we try to do, and what I try to do, is distance myself from that. Yeah, I play in the NFL, but I don’t have domestic violence charge. I don’t have a DUI charge. I don’t have a drug charge that I’m suspended four games. There are a lot of great men in this league, and just because one or two screws it up for all of us, doesn’t mean we’re all bad. Same thing to the police department. Ninety-eight percent of cops are good, don’t let the 2 percent or 1 1/2 percent screw it up for all the other good cops. I think most cops will tell you that, ‘Yeah, that dude is a bad cop.’

I would probably say relationships. The police officers that police these communities have to have better relationships with the people in these communities. Yet also, the people living in these communities need to have a relationship with the police officers and know that, ‘I got a wife and a family, and I’m trying to get back to them, if I can be of assistance and help you with this investigation and help you get this criminal off the street,’ we’re all going to win. It’s a win-win for both of us. Truly, I think you have to build that relationship. We as black people, we have to get out of that mindset that every time the cops are around and, ‘Oh, I don’t know nothin’.’ We gotta get over that; we gotta forgive. Get to know this police officer, and know he’s protecting you and your family. And police officers, get out of your patrol car and get to know these people in the community. It’s a two-way street. It’s not an overnight thing, I think this is a generational fix. I think this is something our kids’ kids are going to have fix.

I’m sad by what I have to see every day in Chicago, and with conversations that I have with some of my friends, it’s sad when you get numb to it. One weekend, there’s 60 people shot, and then the next weekend, it’s only 30 people shot, and you say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a bad weekend, only 30 people got shot!’ That’s kind of where we are in Chicago. I’m saddened by that. My grandparents live in the city, and I saw a shooting the other day in Lake Shore, like, ‘Wow, [my grandmother] lives in Lake Shore, that’s three blocks away from her house. Are you serious?! What the hell is going on?!’ The fact you can’t play in your living room or drive down the Dan Ryan because people are firing or shooting bullets at you, and they’re just shooting randomly, there’s just so much hate. There is no humanity. No humanity, and that truly is sad.

Something has to change. There are people in the community who protest and walk and they do their vigils, but the media doesn’t always showcase that. People are trying to do what they can do to make a change and make a difference.

We are responsible. You’re responsible, I’m responsible, the people in these communities are responsible, the politicians are responsible, we all have a responsibility. I think that we all as a whole – athletes, celebrities, just everybody – we all have our part in fixing this problem. It might take some time, but I definitely think it’s something that can be done. You gotta love each other. There’s no more love left. Everyone is just hate, hate, hate. Love somebody, love one another. Help somebody else out; serve one another. It’s easier said than done. … We’ve gotta get better relationships in these communities.

On July 18, the 35-year-old announced his retirement from the NFL. Tillman played 13 seasons with the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. He signed a one-day contract with Chicago on July 22 so that he could retire as a Chicago Bear. The team drafted him out of Louisiana-Lafayette in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft.

In 12 seasons with Chicago, he had 36 interceptions, 42 forced fumbles and nine touchdowns in 152 starts, including the 2006 Super Bowl. In Tillman’s final year in the league, he started 12 games for the NFC South champion and Super Bowl runner-up. Tillman didn’t play in the postseason because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that he suffered in the regular-season finale.

Tillman just recently co-authored a book titled Middle School Rules of Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman, where he discussed being profiled.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.