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The letter, published a couple of days ago and done in essay form, is written by Tarik Cohen to his 17-year-old self. And it is eye-opening, heartbreaking, hopeful and thought-provoking.
Cohen, the former Chicago Bears running back released by the team in March, is trying to make a comeback after missing all of 2021 with a massive knee injury he suffered during the 2020 season.
He writes (again, to himself) in his letter penned at the Players’ Tribune that “you’re finally starting to feel more like yourself again as a football player. That burst, it’s back. The quick-twitch muscles, they’re back. The ability to cut on a dime? That’s back too. And it feels amazing.”
Tarik Cohen #29 of the Chicago Bears warms up before the NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field on January 06, 2019 (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
But, Cohen adds, “that’s just the football part.”
The life part is punctuated by tragedy.
Cohen lost his younger brother, Dante, in a fatal car accident in early April.
Dante spent years in and out of jail because he was dealing drugs and running with the wrong people and eventually lost his ability to walk after being shot. He seemed to be resetting his course in a better direction when the accident took him but that does little to ease the loss.
Cohen’s twin brother Tyrellalso was killed in May of 2021.He was found dead at a Duke Power substation inRaleigh, North Carolina after being electrocuted.
He had been in an auto accident and in running from the scene he apparently headed toward the substation, where he climbed a pole and contacted a live wire.
“Your twin, your companion from the beginning, gone,” Cohen writes. “Later that day, you’re going to have to tell Tyrell’s two little girls that their daddy isn’t coming home.
Tarik Cohen #29 of the Chicago Bears jogs across the field following his team’s loss to the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field on October 20, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
“You’ll take it upon yourself to be the one to do that. You’ll volunteer. You’ll know that it needs to be you. But, man….
“Doing that will completely break you. Going over to the house and looking a six-year-old and a four-year-old in the eyes and trying to make sense of that? Seeing the looks on their faces when they hear that their daddy is gone forever? Just all that sorrow.”
That moment will be rock bottom. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life.”
That’s saying a lot because Cohen details how many other moments were very difficult.
He details how Dante was shot in the head by unknown assailants seeking revenge on him because he shot someone in a drug deal gone bad.
Cohen hears of his brother’s condition prior to doing an ESPN interview, goes ahead with the interview, never mentioning what’s really going on in his life or thoughts.
“When the interview ends, you’ll shake some more hands, get on a plane, head home to North Carolina, walk into the hospital, and see your brother lying there,” Cohen writes. “You’ll see all those tubes and wires and bandages….
“And you’ll just lose it.”
Cohen writes of his concerns over his career and contract status and what people are saying about him on social media following his 2020 knee injury. But all that pales compared to what life throws at his family — particularly after Dante’s shooting.
Tarik Cohen #29 of the Chicago Bears participates in warm-ups before a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field on August 30, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bills defeated the Bears 28-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
“It’ll feel like you’re crying so hard that your insides are coming out of your body, like they’re escaping,” he writes. “Then, along with all the beeping and buzzing the machines are making, you’ll hear the doctors and nurses talking….
“Severe brain injuries.”
“Probably won’t walk again.”
Cohen juggled all of this with professional success that included a $17 million contract that included $12 million in guaranteed money and all the trapping that come with that.
But, ultimately, no one really knows what’s going on with him beyond the NFL environment — the aches, the despair.
“Sitting here now, looking back on everything, it almost feels like, with football, you kind of made a deal with the devil or something,” he writes. “Like all that’s happened was somehow the price you had to pay to make it to the NFL and be successful. And maybe that’s the case or maybe it’s not, but it’s something you’re going to have to think long and hard about, basically for your entire life going forward.”
Tarik Cohen is 26 years old and continues to wait on his next NFL opportunity.