Charles and Jackie Tillman in February, 2012. (Getty Images)If Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt wasn't having such a monster season, there's no question that Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman would be the NFL's midseason Defensive Player of the Year. Tillman has covered every receiver he's faced this season like human flypaper, and his four forced fumbles against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday proved his savvy and resourcefulness -- not to mention his ability to play physically in an effective manner. Chicago's defense may be the NFL's best this year, and Tillman has been a huge part of that success.
But when Tillman's Bears face Watt's Texans this Sunday night, there's a possibility that Tillman won't suit up, and it's not because of an injury. Tillman's wife Jackie is expecting the family's fourth child on Monday, and Tillman has said that he's wrestling with two very important commitments. Tillman's daughter Tiana was born with a heart disease, which eventually required a transplant, and changed his thinking about the importance of family and being there for that most important event.
"At the end of the day, [family is] all that you have," Tillman said on Wednesday, after his comments that he would possibly miss the game to be with his family. "This game is important to me, but after what we went through with my middle child Tiana, to me football is second ... It'll always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned, to teach me that family — when I'm done playing football — my family will always be there for me."
Tillman later said that he would play Sunday night if his daughter was born on Sunday morning, but one never knows when that moment happens.
Chicago head coach Lovie Smith said in no uncertain terms that Tillman should be with his family if that is his choice.
"It's family first," Smith said. "If there is something you feel like you need to do for your family always do that. How we look at it is like an injury. If a player can't go, it's next guy up. We'll keep going."
Teammate Brandon Marshall agreed. "It's take care of your family. We understand how things are run around here," he said. "This is a special group. Coach Smith is a special guy, definitely in how he runs things, and … you take on the character of your leader. That's what he preaches — family comes first."
Some on the outside were not so sure. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk expressed a take that got him a lot of flak for his trouble.
My position was and is that the players have made a lifestyle choice that entails being available 16 days per year, no matter what. If they choose not to plan their nine-month family expansion activities to coincide with the eight months per year when their work activities don't entail playing games that count, why should their teams suffer the consequences?
My position on Florio's position is that he could not possibly be more wrong.
In an era of NFL football in which player safety is deemed to be more important than ever, and players are supposed to avoid participation if injuries could possibly affect their lives down the road, it's also fair to ask whether major life events should be considered. Smith and the Bears have the right idea here, and no matter how valuable Tillman is to the Bears' defense, that decision is -- and should be -- up to him.
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