Photo by Kelly White
Former Chicago Bear Charles “Peanut” Tillman signs his book, “The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman,” during an appearance Monday at Advocate Christ Medical Center.
Charles “Peanut” Tillman may no longer be intercepting passes or stripping the ball away from opponents as a defensive back during his long NFL football career, but his positive attitude toward life is his new playing field following his retirement.
“I use my position of strength for service, not status,” the former Chicago Bears cornerback, Tillman, 35, said during the 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Monday afternoon.
Tillman highlighted the event with a lecture on his football career, life and his book, “The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman,” which was published in November of 2015 and co-written by sportswriter Sean Jensen.
The event featured music from the Providence St. Mel School Chamber Choir and a multicultural taste luncheon, featuring food from all around the world. The event was held in the medical center’s Stein Auditorium. The auditorium was packed to capacity for the event and was organized by Advocate Christ Medical Center’s Mission and Spiritual Care. The event was headed by Rev. Richard James, senior staff chaplain of Spiritual Care and chairman of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.
“Charles Tillman is a person of great character,” James said. “He is much more than a great football player; he is a great person.”
All attendees received a free signed copy of Tillman’s book.
Born in Chicago in 1981, Tillman is nicknamed "Peanut" by his family because of his small stature growing up. With his father serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Tillman attended 11 different schools domestically and internationally. He was frequently stationed in different locations, ranging from the U.S to Germany. He attended high school at Copperas Cove High School in Texas.
Tillman said his inspiration to succeed came from failing a math class in high school.
“I thought I had everything,” Tillman said. “I had a lot of friends, I had a girlfriend but then I failed a math class and I wasn’t able to run track. Failing that math class was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because I found fear in my failure. With the help of teachers, I got my grade back up.”
However, teachers weren’t the only motivation in Tillman’s life.
“I’m nothing without the values that have been instilled in me from my teachers, coaches, parents and grandparents,” he said. “So many people have helped me along the way, and they have all helped to build me into the man you see today. It all starts at home. Learn to love each other a little more at home. It will go a long way.”
“He (Tillman) can teach us all about lessons learned, from what his parents have instilled in him and what he has learned as a football player,” said Vicky Tanulanond-James, practice manager for Advocate Medical Group.
After high school, Tillman received a Division 1-A scholarship to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he continued to play football and was able to graduate in three and a half years.
“I’m a guy who is all about goals,” Tillman said. “I believe in writing goals down and having a plan. I knew going into college I wanted to graduate in three and a half years. I was taking 20 credit hours a semester 12 months a year all while playing football. No matter how difficult the class was, I always gave it my best effort.”
In 2003, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the NFL Draft.
“I love this city,” Tillman said. “It’s my home and I’m very proud of it.”
Tillman has been distinguished as one of the NFL’s most opportunistic defensive backs, intercepting 36 passes and forcing 42 fumbles.
Tillman was the 2013 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year, a 2012 Salute to Service honoree, a 2009 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, and a three-time Brian Piccolo Award recipient. He also played for the Carolina Panthers in 2015 before retiring at the end of the season. He retired on July 18, 2016 after playing for 13 seasons in the NFL.
His book features the defining childhood stories of a young, well-traveled youth who had to deal with racism, adapt to constant relocation, and endure the divorce of his parents. The book also discusses Tillman being racially profiled and wrongly detained by police as a youngster.
The book is inspired by faith and family, Tillman said.
Tillman tackled another issue off of the field when in 2008, his second youngest daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and was in desperate need of a heart transplant at the age of only 3 months.
“I felt completely helpless as a man,” Tillman said. “When she received a heart, I was the happiest parent in the world but in the back of my mind, I knew there was a mother out there somewhere that had just lost their child. I didn’t know this woman, I didn’t know her family. She didn’t know us and she didn’t know my daughter, but she made a choice that saved my daughter’s life. It was both the happiest and saddest day of my life.”
During his football career in 2005, Tillman and his wife Jackie established the Cornerstone Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and opportunities to children in need. The mission of the foundation is to help improve the lives of critically and chronically ill children throughout Chicago.
“The thing that I am the most proud of in my life is the giving and service that I am able to provide to others,” Tillman said.