Another weekend, another win for the Panthers. The undefeated hometown heroes showed the Falcons who’s boss yesterday in an assertive 38-0 shut out at Bank of America Stadium, their 13th straight victory of the season.
Newcomer Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman was sidelined for the fourth game in a row following a knee injury in the 11th week of the season, but he’s hopeful he’ll be back on the field this weekend to face the Giants in New York.
“Each day I’m getting stronger and stronger,” he said in a phone interview Saturday evening. “I was hoping it was going to be [cleared to play] this week but they said no so hopefully next week.”
Given his injury and my shameless lack of knowledge of sports, we kept the focus of our conversation off the field, which to me is a more compelling side of professional athletes anyway. What makes them tick? Where do they direct their fragmented free time? Who are they when the game or season or career is over? Who were they before?
For Tillman, that last question is the focus of his newly released book The Middle School Rules of Charles Peanut Tillman, a collection of life lessons from his childhood.
Tillman spent part of his childhood and the entirety of his NFL career in Chicago, playing 12 years with the Bears before joining the Panthers as starting cornerback this season. He’s a 2x Pro Bowl selection, NFC Champion and the NFL’s 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year. But rather than write about the glory that came with an adult career most of us will never recognize, he wrote instead about the universally relatable experience of growing up.
“Typically, when athletes, celebrities, write autobiographies it’s always geared towards adults,” he said. “A lot of kids idolize and love athletes. They wear their jerseys and things like that. So why not write a book about yourself as a child before you were this big time celebrity athlete, before you had all this fame?”
The book, written by Sean Jensen, is based on Tillman’s account of his own experiences growing up in a military family. The narrative follows Peanut, a nickname Tillman’s Aunt Renee gave him at birth, as he navigates topics ranging from the importance of trying new foods to heavier subjects like death, divorce and what to do if you’re profiled by the police.
“It’s real,” he said. “We wanted to write this book and pick certain stories that would help a kid in particular situations.”
Tillman’s parents are lead characters in the book, supplying most of the “rules”, or main messages, featured at the end of each chapter, but he’s quick to point out that not all of them clicked for him until adulthood and his own fatherhood.
“Back then you’re not really listening to what your parents are saying,” he said. “You don’t get the message. Now I’m like, I get it. They were right. They had my best interest at heart.”
His hope is that his book can help deliver that message faster and to more kids who might lack adult role models.
“I was blessed to have two parents that loved me and cared enough about me,” he said. “I also had coaches and teachers. I had people outside of my family that cared enough about me and they saw the good and had my best interest at heart to give me good advice when I wasn’t around my parents. These rules, these life lessons, they don’t have to come from your parents.”
Today, Peanut is a husband, father of four and philanthropist passing life lessons down to his own kids who are navigating a new life as they settle in to the city of Charlotte.
Tillman and his wife Jackie see this first big move of their kids’ lives as an opportunity to teach them about the Carolinas, to learn about our issues and to become a part of the community. Aside from his 6-year-old son’s occasional struggle to decipher the southern accent, Tillman says it’s going well.
They’re big fans of Pasta & Provisions and Cowfish, and Tillman says he’s a regular at Bad Daddy’s, dropping in for a burger about once a week. But he’s on the hunt for more. “I’m still looking to try some other ones,” he said. “I try to stay away from the chain restaurants. I like to do the small intimate ones, you know, the ones that nobody knows about.” (Do we ever.)
But becoming part of a community is about more than finding the best places to eat. That’s why the Tillmans are gearing up to launch Charles’ Locker, a program facilitated by his charitable Cornerstone Foundation, at Levine Children’s Hospital. The program stocks lockers with video game systems, iPads, e-readers, DVD players, laptops and more so chronically sick kids and their families can find a little escape during a trying time.
“Maybe we could give them something to help them forget they’re in the hospital,” said Tillman, a feeling he remembers all too well from his own daughter’s life-altering heart transplant in 2008.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in life,” he said, “seeing your kid sick and you can’t do anything about it.” When news of a successful donor heart arrived, it brought simultaneous hope and despair. “My daughter is going to live, and somebody else’s kid has died,” he says in his book.
So Charles and Jackie decided to turn their daughter’s second chance at life into an opportunity to serve other families. “Somebody blessed us,” he said. “They made a selfless decision and out of that I think Jackie and I have been able to bless some of the other families because we were blessed. I’ve been given a lot and I’m just trying to do my part to help those in need.”
The Cornerstone Foundation is hosting a fundraising event at The Ritz-Carlton on Monday, January 11 to finance the Charles’ Locker program at Levine Children’s Hospital. Details here.
Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman will be signing copies of his book at Barnes & Noble at Carolina Place Mall on Friday, December 18 at 6 p.m. Details here.