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The letter, published a few days ago and written as an essay, is written by 17-year-old Tarik Cohen to himself. And it’s eye-opening, heartbreaking, hopeful and empowering.
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 serious knee injury he suffered during the 2020 season.
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He writes (again, to himself) in his written letter to the Players’ Tribune that “you’re finally starting to feel more like yourself again as a football player. That burst, it’s back Fast-twitch muscles, they’re The ability to cut a dime? It’s also back. And it’s amazing.
But, adds Cohen, “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 prison for dealing drugs and running around with the wrong people and eventually lost his ability to walk after being shot. He seemed to be heading back in a better direction when the crash took him, but that doesn’t do much to mitigate the loss.
Cohen’s twin brother, Tyrell, was also killed in May 2021. He was found dead at a Duke Power substation in Raleigh, North Carolina, after being electrocuted.
He had been in a car accident and while fleeing the scene apparently headed for the substation, where he climbed a pole and contacted a live wire.
“Your twin, your companion from the start, is gone,” Cohen writes. “Later today you’ll have to tell Tyrell’s two little girls that their daddy isn’t coming home.
“You’ll take it upon yourself to be the one to do this. You’ll be willing. You’ll know it has to be you. But, man….
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“Doing this is going to completely break you. Going home and looking a six-year-old and a four-year-old in the eye and trying to make sense of it? Seeing the looks on their faces when they hear their daddy is Gone forever? Just all this grief.
This moment will be at its lowest. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life.”
That says a lot as Cohen details how many other moments were very difficult.
It details how Dante was shot in the head by unknown assailants seeking revenge on him for shooting someone in a drug deal gone wrong.
Cohen hears about his brother’s condition before doing an ESPN interview, the interview continues, never mentioning what is really going on in his life or his thoughts.
“When the interview ends, you’ll shake more hands, get on a plane, go home to North Carolina, walk into the hospital and see your brother lying there,” Cohen wrote. “You will see all these tubes and wires and bandages….
“And you’re just gonna lose it.”
Cohen writes about his worries about his career and the status of his contract and what people are saying about him on social media after his knee injury in 2020. But it’s all nothing to do with what life has in store to his family, especially after the shooting of Dante.
“You’ll feel like you’re crying so hard that your insides are coming out of your body, like they’re escaping,” he wrote. “Then with all the beeps and buzzes the machines make, you will hear the doctors and nurses talking….
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“Serious brain damage.”
“I probably won’t walk again.”
Cohen juggled it all with professional success that included a $17 million contract that included $12 million in guaranteed money and all the entrapment that goes with it.
But, at the end of the day, no one really knows what’s going on with him beyond the NFL environment — the pains, the desperation.
“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 wrote. “Like everything that happened was kind of the price you had to pay to get to the NFL and be successful. And maybe it is or maybe it isn’t, but it’s something you’re going to have to think long and hard about, basically for all of your life to come.”
Tarik Cohen is 26 and continues to wait for his next opportunity in the NFL.