Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman is best known as a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Chicago Bears who clamps down on opposing receivers and causes fumbles at an unusually high rate.
What many people don’t know is the 31-year-old has had the good fortune of traveling the world, but also the misfortune of having his beloved infant daughter Tianna come down with Dilated Cardiomyopathy, requiring her to undergo a heart transplant at six months of age.
In response to his daughters disease Tillman founded the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation that helps individuals and families dealing with chronic illnesses. He will be holding his third fundraiser Oct. 29, at Morton’s the Steak House in Northbrook, and he sat down with the Defender to discuss the event and a little bit of football and life.
Chicago Defender: Tell us about the upcoming fundraiser?
Charles Tillman: We serve you great steaks with great service with us the players serving you. The night is very organic and the chemistry is fun. It’s very loose, very open, it’s not like a golf club charity event. We can be as loud as we want – in a respectful way of course. It’s a chance for people to meet all the players in one room in one spot and it’s a good way for me to get close to the people who support the charity on a personal basis.
CD: What were the circumstances around your daughter’s illness?
CT: I was completely oblivious to the fact that she was sick because she was so healthy and in just one day she was terminally ill. Being a father and seeing your infant child in the hospital hooked up to all kinds of tubes makes you feel helpless, and my wife felt helpless too. There was nothing I could do physically to help her.
CD: How is your daughter doing now?
CT: She had the transplant on July 31, 2008 and today she is a normal four-year-old. You’d never know the difference unless you saw the scar on her chest.
CD: On the topic of football, how did you develop the technique where you punch the ball out of a ball carriers grip?
CT: I did it a couple of times in college, then I did it once in the league and a lightbulb went off and I was like I can get these out all the time. It kind of just happened. I do miss occasionally and sometimes it hurts when I might hit a facemask or stomach every now and then, but I’m pretty good at hitting the ball when I need to.
CD: A lot of people think the cornerback position is the hardest in football, do you agree?
CT: Cornerback is tough because we’re always doing everything backwards and backpedaling. You have to be ambidextrous because you might play on the left side or the right side and everything I do is all reaction. I have to constantly anticipate what my opponent is going to do.”
CD: You lived for many years in Germany and traveled a lot growing up because your father was in the military – how did that affect you?
CT: To be exposed to other cultures was great as a kid. It taught me a lot about America from another perspective. And in my young mind at that time I thought that everyone had been somewhere else before. I thought I do it and I’m not special so I thought everyone went to Germany. I thought that was the norm, but for me it was a blast.
CD: Chicago is experiencing a notable increase in youth violence and homicides, do you think exposure to other cultures and traveling might change their mindset?
CT: I definitely think that exposing the youth to new things opens their eyes. They might think ‘I didn’t know this existed or I want to travel the world, I want to work in Paris or Dubai. Travel gives them the opportunity and vision that they can not just be a product of their environment – they can go above and beyond that. They might think I don’t have to stick to one formula, there is so much more that I can do, I can make my own destiny.’